Autistic-Diagnosed Senior Once Told He Would Never Be Anything Graduates Top Of Class

By Erika Hanson | 4 days ago

Joseph Falco

For the last few decades, the amount of children diagnosed with autism has significantly increased. Today, many medical professionals are questioning that uptick and wondering if misdiagnoses are leading to the growing trend. Proving that the latter is likely happening across America is Joseph Falco – the valedictorian of his graduating class this year who was wrongly diagnosed as a child and told he would never amount to anything. 

CBS News reports that 17-year-old Joseph Falco is graduating top of his class, No. 1 out of his large 375-student class at Copiague High School in Long Island, New York. To any grad, valedictorian status is an impressive feat. But to Falco and his family, it is much more than that. At the age of two, Joseph was diagnosed with autism, and the doctors gave his parents a bleak outlook on his life. 

His mother, Dolores Falco recalls taking her son to the doctor after noticing some signs. She remembers him flapping his hands, walking on his toes, and avoiding eye contact – all common signs of the disorder. Doctors diagnosed Joseph Falco with low-functioning autism. And the words rocked the family’s world. His mother remembers doctors telling her that he was a severe case, noting that he would likely never be verbal.

Looking back on it, Joseph Falco told the media that doctors told his family he would “never be anything.” But defying doctors’ odds, the young boy went on to accomplish great things in life, after his family failed to give up and sought out early intervention tactics. Right away, his parents hired speech, special ed, and occupational therapists to work one on one with him. At the age of three, they sent him to a special ed preschool. 

Not only did Joseph Falco go on to prove he could perfectly function and communicate, but he also became one of the most accomplished students to graduate from his high school. Now diagnosed with high-functioning Asperger’s, the 17-year-old grad boasts a whopping 104.4-grade point average (GPA). Socially, Joseph also beat expectations as well. In school, he starred in drama productions. He even founded his high school’s debate club.

If anything,  Joseph Falco and his parents hope that his story will send hope to families struggling with autistic diagnoses in their children. “Don’t count your kid out. You don’t know,” she said. This sentiment is so important to families struggling with understanding how to adapt to these spectrum diagnoses, which are only growing in numbers. Last year, the CDC reported that nearly 1 in 44 kids are now diagnosed as autistic. More than two decades ago, only about 1 in 150 were diagnosed this way. 

Furthermore, some experts feel that educators and parents are merely leading this growing finding, and possibly in a wrongful manner, such as was the case with Joseph Falco. Oftentimes, teachers are conveying to parents that their kids may be autistic, simply because of their hyper, sometimes unruly behavior. Because of this, a group of researchers is looking at how artificial intelligence can help educators better identify and possibly pass on these findings to families.

Joseph Falco

Whatever the diagnosis, as Joseph Falco says, those with disabilities shouldn’t see it “as a disability.” Instead, this valedictorian sees it as a superpower making him “strong and unique.” The 17-year-old will be headed to Hofstra University in the fall. There, he plans to study cyber security, with ambitions to work for the FBI in the future.