Berkley High student worked through autism, tough start to graduate

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published June 24, 2019

 Kailey Egrin worked hard to improve her grades and self at Berkley High School. She graduated this year and will study at Oakland Community College.

Kailey Egrin worked hard to improve her grades and self at Berkley High School. She graduated this year and will study at Oakland Community College.

Photo provided by Kailey Egrin


BERKLEY — School isn’t something that comes easy to everybody.

Some students have to work twice as hard in order to pass classes and get their grades up just to have a chance to graduate when senior year rolls around.

Kailey Egrin never had it easy when it came to school, but that didn’t stop her from working hard in order to graduate from Berkley High School this year.

Egrin, 18, struggled during her freshman and sophomore years. She said she slacked off a bit — which she regrets now — and that she failed a class in ninth grade.

She had to work harder than most people, whether it was with classwork or interacting with others, Egrin said, and that was something the budding college student could attribute to being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum.

“I get distracted at the simplest things, and I definitely have a harder time interacting with people than most people do,” she said. “I basically act like I’m very good at interacting with people, but in reality, I always feel super nervous and very awkward.”

Egrin said there is a misconception that people with autism usually have very good memories, and she would have people in the past question how she didn’t know things, saying she should have a good memory.

“That just gave me a lot of pressure and made me feel bad, because everyone is so different,” she said. “I do have a good memory, but with school, nothing really clicks for me and that’s just kind of what happened.”

While she could have stayed down on herself, Egrin started to improve on her studies during her junior year. She noticed this improvement, and she used it as motivation to continue to get better into her final year at Berkley.

“I kind of stepped it up a little bit more. I tried, and my grades definitely showed that I was trying … and then senior year, my grades were really good, and my hardest class I passed with an A,” she said.

With those improvements, Egrin now will head to Oakland Community College, and she hopes to transfer to a four-year college and become a veterinary technician.

“I was very proud of myself, and I still am because there’s definitely a lot that I’ve had to overcome throughout my four years of high school, and the fact that I actually did is crazy to me,” Egrin said.

There were some things that were easy to Egrin, such as being in the peer-to-peer program at school, which helps foster social inclusion and participation for students with disabilities including autism.

At first, Egrin was in the program receiving support from others, but by her senior year, she was the one who was helping others and giving them support and being a peer. She said the program “changed her life” and that she will miss all the people that she met in it, especially Katy Levinson, the school’s social worker and her “second mom.”

“I never thought I would be like a peer to someone else with special needs,” she said. “I just thought I would be, like, on the same level as them. Now I’m here and helping them. … I like helping them. It makes me feel better and that I’m actually doing something good.”

Levinson, who has worked with Egrin since her freshman year, said her former student has a ton of tenacity and conviction, and while she has anxiety, that doesn’t stop her from volunteering in the community and championing what she believes in.

“She’s really brave,” she said.

“As a kid with Asperger’s, the social piece of high school — which is sometimes, for many kids, the most important piece of high school — she had to work really hard at it, whereas a lot of kids, it comes really easily to,” she continued. “Kailey struggled with that and had to do a lot of self-reflection in terms of how she was in relationship with other people, what she took from relationships and what she gave to relationships. I just think that for a teenager whose whole world revolves around her social life, to struggle with that socially, but to do as well as she did, is really something special.”

Levinson was able to see firsthand Egrin grow in the peer-to-peer program from receiving help and building relationships to being a leader and role model who was able to provide her own support for other kids in high school.

Levinson said she’s “unbelievably proud” of Egrin, affirming how she owned that title of her “school mom”

“I feel like in a lot of ways I did play the role of mom at school. … That was a really wonderful relationship, but also sometimes a really difficult relationship, because you know your kids drive you crazy,” she said. “There were times Kailey would say or do things … but we always came back around to being able to solve problems together, and when she relied on me for social support, I would rely on her to support some of our other students that I worked with. That was a cool evolution of our relationship.”

Egrin said she looks back and wishes she could have done some things differently or better in high school, whether it was with classes or something such as managing her stress better.

But Egrin also knows she can’t change anything and can be happy at how she has arrived at this place in her life.

“When I was younger, I was … in the special ed room way more often,” she said. “I would get speech therapy and ... they were more concerned about me and checking on me, because when I was younger, I did not have normal behaviors. … It just feels weird. It’s not that I have lower autism or higher-functioning autism, it’s that I worked so hard to get here and not a lot of people really understand that. A lot of people think, ‘Oh she has it so easy. She doesn’t have bad autism,’ and I’m thinking I still have my own challenges I just don’t really talk about, because I don’t want to make myself look bad.”

“It’s so amazing,” she added. “I’m really happy at where I am.”