YLF Student with Asperger's Excelling in College

Sunday, September 23, 2012

When their son was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at age 3, Fort Lauderdale residents Maria and Lorenzo Burga feared he would be unable to speak.

Today, however, Renzo Burga is an honors student at Broward College, where he is studying computer science and maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average. He wants to ultimately work for a high-tech company such as Apple, Microsoft or Google.

"I'm studying computer programming and applications. I like designing things," he said.

Burga, 20, credits his family and a network of supporters and advocates for helping him focus and persevere. His father was a big help with math homework, and his mother with reading and art classes.

"My parents have been a huge help in helping me succeed," he said.

Burga is a member of the Computer Club, the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and the Honors Student Committee. On weekends, he volunteers for the Plantation Athletic League's Dynamite program for those with developmental and other disabilities.

Asperger's is an autism spectrum disorder that is characterized by difficulties with social interaction, as well as restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests.

Burga received speech and other therapy at Nova Southeastern University's LaBonte Institute between the ages of 3 and 12.

"They are very helpful in providing therapy to children with disabilities, and they also offer group sessions for parents," Maria Burga said. "It helped a lot for Lorenzo and me to talk to other parents who had the same concerns and challenges and get support. … We've always worked with him to study hard and excel."

Burga also has received assistance from The Able Trust and the Dan Marino Foundation. It was through the foundation's STEP into Employment program that he got part-time work between semesters at North Broward Medical Center, where he worked in food service and in the medical records departments, and at Longhorn Steakhouse.

"The work experience benefited me by giving me a sense of responsibility, helping me with communication and social skills, learning how to work with people, being independent, and handling money and paying my bills," he said.

Susanne Homant is president and CEO of The Able Trust, which works to provide vocational training for people with disabilities and prepares them to lead independent lives.

She has seen Burga's growth from when he attended his first Youth Leadership Forum in the summer of 2009 to when he returned in subsequent years as a volunteer.

"He's gone from a quiet, shy kid to an open, positive, helping and happy guy with great faith in his future," she said. "He learned a lot and made a lot of friends and now knows he has a lot of opportunities. … He's a phenomenal young man, and he's going to go far."

Burga's advice to children coping with disabilities is simple: "Get early intervention and education, socialize and never stop striving."

His parents are proud of the determination he has shown.

"It's always been his goal to get As in school; he wouldn't settle for getting a B," Maria Burga said. "I'm so proud of him."

Source: Sun Sentinel