When Caspian Banki was a kid, many doubted his prospects because he had autism.
“A lot of people told my mom I would never graduate from high school, or live alone, or graduate from college,” Banki says.
Well, they were wrong. Banki will check the third and final box on that list this week when he walks across the commencement stage to collect his bachelor’s degree in sociology from Colorado State University.
His first book
When he was in first grade, he and his mother, Lynne, wrote a book called What Autism Means to Me. Caspian drew most of the illustrations, while his mom helped with the writing. The top of each page begins with the words, “Being autistic means,” followed by Caspian’s drawings and the various ways he completes that sentence, such as:
“…words and sounds stick in my head. I like to say them or hear them over and over again. It makes me laugh!”
The book includes comments about Caspian from his family, friends and teachers, as well as blank pages for other kids with differences to fill out, answering questions like, “What bothers you?” and “What makes you feel safe?”
“…I feel safe when things are clean. Especially my hands!”
Now Caspian is nearly done with a second book about his autism. This one, he says, covers all of the things he’s overcome since first grade. For instance, he’s no longer as sensitive to loud sounds or the smell of food. In fact, against the urgings of a cousin and even a waitress, he insisted on ordering the traditional Nordic dish “lutefisk” during a trip to Minnesota, and actually liked it. He acknowledges that he still has some issues with anxiety, and doesn’t care much for crowded places or loud music.
“…I like music a lot, but slow songs make me very sad inside. I can remember almost every tune I hear and where I heard it first.”
Caspian was born in Denver, but his family moved to Seattle when he was 4 years old. He didn’t care for the weather there, and missed being close to his beloved Denver Broncos, so after graduating from high school, he moved back to Colorado and lived on his own. He earned his associate’s degree from Front Range Community College in 2014, and started at CSU the following year — after his mother heard great things about the Opportunities for Postsecondary Success (OPS) program. That support program for students with disabilities is based in the Center for Community Partnerships in the Department of Occupational Therapy.
Shortly after starting classes at Front Range, Caspian ran into Temple Grandin, CSU professor of animal sciences and world-renowned author and speaker on the topic of autism, at the grocery store. He struck up a conversation with her, telling her he was majoring in business and planned to open a sports bar. She asked if he had any experience in that line of work, and when he said no, she stressed the importance of gaining some.
“…I see the world from my point of view first and it is difficult for me to guess what others are feeling.”
Caspian started out at CSU as a business major, but switched to sociology after his mom reminded him how much he loves studying how people interact over topics like religion and race. He’ll graduate Dec. 15 with a 3.0 GPA.
Caspian likes Colorado craft beer and fishing, and he’s eager to try hunting next. He’s already completed his hunter safety course and plans to start with small game like rabbit or duck.
At CSU, he was active in several clubs, serving as treasurer of the College Republicans and Students for Life. He helped start a campus chapter of the National Rifle Association Collegiate Coalition, and was involved in the campus chapter of Turning Point, the group that invited the organization’s founder and executive director, Charlie Kirk, to speak on campus in February, amidst controversy. Caspian decided to complete his final semester of coursework online because of the political tension he experienced being involved with those organizations.
“…when people talk loudly or scream, it hurts my ears and hurts my feelings. Sudden noises confuse me.”
Sara Freeman is the OPS coordinator at the Center for Community Partnerships who has worked closely with Caspian. She said he has served for two years as a peer mentor in the CCP’s Bridge program, which helps incoming freshmen and transfer students who have disabilities adjust to college life.
“He is a very kind, genuine person who cares deeply for others and being able to help,” she said. “I have watched Caspian grow tremendously over the past several years I’ve worked with him. Perhaps the most notable growth I’ve seen is with his self-advocacy skills. He is aware of areas where he has difficulty and may need support, and knows how to communicate to get the help he needs.”
“…it’s hard for me to find the words I need to answer questions or tell stories.”
‘Smart and creative’
Erica Billingsley, another OPS coordinator, agreed that self-advocacy is one of Caspian’s strengths, along with hard work and the willingness to lean on a team of support to overcome adversity.
“Caspian is very smart and creative,” she says. “He brings a unique and valuable perspective to this campus, but he has also experienced many challenges in order to get to graduation. His success is so beautiful, not because it was easy, but because he had to struggle and grow in order to get here. It has been an honor to work with Caspian and so rewarding to see his perseverance pay off.”
“…sometimes it’s hard for us to understand each other’s games. Let’s teach each other!”
Caspian will spend the holidays with his family in Seattle, and in February he’s planned a trip to Disneyland, where he’ll celebrate his college graduation before starting to look for a job as a grant writer.
At Disneyland, he plans to conquer his longtime fear of roller coasters by riding Splash Mountain or Space Mountain.
There’s little doubt that he’ll overcome that hurdle, like all the others.