When Adam Hoffman graduated from Montgomery College in May, his degree marked the end of a five-year college experience some said he might not be able to complete.
Adam, 25, of Rockville has high-functioning autism, a disability that made college a challenge for him. But — as he proved by earning a degree — it didn’t take a college education out of his reach.
He received an associate degree in applied science, majoring in computer applications.
Adam said he knew he wanted to go to college to learn about technology.
But others were concerned.
According to evaluations provided by his dad, Howard Hoffman of Bethesda, several experts said Adam likely would find college a frustrating experience.
“His disability is such that conceptual thinking is more challenging for him,” Howard said.
But, he said, he saw his son highly motivated to attend college. He thought it was better for Adam to try and not succeed than to not try and “lose an opportunity.”
Howard Hoffman described his son as having “a knack” for learning computer software.
“We weren’t sure how far he could get,” Howard said. “The idea was to try and see how it went.”
A psychologist wrote in a 2006 evaluation that “due to Adam’s significant learning issues, a traditional two- or four-year college program will be highly challenging, and will potentially generate considerable frustration.”
In 2010 — after Adam had completed lower-level computer courses at the college — a Montgomery College guidance counselor recommended that Adam use skills he had learned to make himself a better job candidate.
“Taking additional advanced courses in the Computer Applications department will require increased conceptual skills that, from what I have read in his records and experienced in my interactions with Adam, he does not have,” the guidance counselor’s evaluation said, according to Howard.
Adam certainly faced challenges, starting with what classes to take when he first started.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do at first,” he said.
A few classes, including a geography course, proved too difficult the first time around. Adam would drop the course and take — and pass — it the next semester.
He needed to take some classes outside his major, such as biology and English — each obstacles in their own right, Howard said.
“It was more of a stretch as the semesters went on,” he said.
Yet, Adam graduated with a 3.2 GPA and made the dean’s list a few times. Adam said he averaged about three courses each semester over the five years while also working part time as an administrative assistant during most of his time in college.
“I think some other people may have become discouraged,” Howard said. “He never got that way.”
Adam’s goals progressed as he would reach one and take on another.
After he passed several courses, Adam decided to work toward a certificate. When the certificate was within reach, he decided to go for an associate degree.
“I found out I was heading toward it,” he said of the certificate. “I thought it would be a great thing to have.”
He had the same thought process when he went for the degree, he said.
Adam worked hard during his time at the college, but also had the benefit of several supporters, Howard said.
“It takes a village to send a special-needs child to college,” Howard said, putting a spin on the familiar phrase.
Adam said he received help from several tutors and other assistance from College Learning Experience, an organization that provides support services to college students with autism, Asperger’s syndrome and other disabilities.
Ric Kienzle, director of the College Learning Experience’s Rockville location, described Adam as “a wonderful young man” who, despite the struggles he faced, “worked hard and pressed hard to achieve his goal.”
Kienzle said Adam’s tutors and others saw him grow over the five years he attended college.
“He’s one of those guys who’s driven,” he said. “He really wanted to get it done and he did.”
Adam said his favorite class was graphic design, but he doesn’t know if he wants to work in the field.
He still works as an administrative assistant and said his newly earned degree has helped him in his job.
“It’s great to have everything done and more opportunities,” he said.