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Vaughn Winter: Cracking the code to his future career
“Job interviews are not fun, especially when you’re awful at talking to new people. I kind of have to push myself over the cliff, and just go.”
That statement could easily apply to any 22-year-old looking to make his way in the world. But for Vaughn Winter of Barre, who struggles with a combination of ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, and what he calls “a small amount of autism,” the comment is both an absolute understatement and a testament to his incredible determination, maturity and self-awareness in the face of formidable challenges.
“The way I describe it to people is, imagine you have two brains. Each of those brains is thinking, one independent of the other. One is me in the present and the now. The other one is doing whatever it wants. It doesn’t have any sense of order, and it doesn’t want to stick to one thing. It’s like a dog with a short attention span. I can hear both at once,” Vaughn explains.
It’s a rare and special moment, he says, when the second brain quiets down for a bit and allows him to focus. And yet, Vaughn was determined to rise above the series of odd warehousing and restocking jobs he had held since graduating from Montpelier High School in 2019, and earn the credentials needed for a professional career.
“I’ve always been interested in computers,” he says, and he jumped at the chance to participate in a program, offered through Vermont VocRehab (now called HireAbility VT) and VSAC, for Vermonters with disabilities. Since late last year, Vaughn has been taking an online course in user-experience design through Burlington Code Academy, tuition-free, and he also receives a stipend to cover his living expenses.
While Vaughn says he had long wanted to find work that he enjoyed and that would allow him to build a career—rather than working a series of jobs—some additional motivation came in late 2021, when he reported for jury duty and met the woman who is now his girlfriend.
“The first day of jury duty, I’m sitting on a bench at the back. As people came in, I tried to make eye contact. Most of them didn’t return the glance. Then, Cheyenne walked in,” Vaughn recalls. “Our eyes met, she came and sat down next to me, and we started talking.”
Cheyenne also has ADHD, so the two had an instant shared experience, and over the course of their jury service, they formed a strong connection that led to a serious relationship. “She’s what’s motivated me to get myself out there and into a job I want,” Vaughn says.
While he’s able to “push himself” when it comes to meeting new people—and has done so quite successfully, both in forging a relationship with Cheyenne and being interviewed for this article—“learning is a different story,” he says. “There’s no switch I can hit or button I can push to make it easier.”
While there have been some bumps in the road for Vaughn, who sometimes needs more support than is typically available in a self-driven online class, he’s been a successful self-advocate to make the program work for him. He initially enrolled in the full-time version of the course, but realized, eight weeks in, that he wasn’t ready for the capstone project, where students are commissioned by a real-world client to build a fully functional website. However, he found a solution.
“I spoke up for myself, and reminded [the professors] that I have a learning disability. I asked to transfer over to the class’s part-time cohort, which covers the same material, but at a slower pace,” he explains. “I’m repeating some units with the benefit of prior knowledge, and I’m picking up on some of the fundamentals that I missed the first time around. I’m also getting through my assignments a lot faster.”
Vaughn says he’s learned a lot at BCA, a statement echoed by his VSAC outreach counselor, Ran Wang, who has worked with him since last October.
“Vaughn faces lots of barriers, one of which is learning difficulties. He needs to work much harder than others to achieve the same result. But he’s determined to change his life, and he’s doing great at BCA,” she says.
Now, Vaughn says when he looks at the code behind a website, he understands it and knows how to edit it to change the way the site looks and functions. “I have to say, I’m really enjoying all of it,” he says.
Vaughn’s goal, upon completing the course, is to start out in an IT position. Eventually, he’d love to become a video game designer.
When asked how the BCA course has changed his path, Vaughn answers: “Without this program, it would have been a case of, ‘Yep, I’m gonna do that thing.’ And then I’d spend the rest of my life working away who-knows-where. I can’t thank VocRehab and VSAC enough for making this possible. I am beyond blessed at this point.”
For additional information on college and career planning and help with financial aid from VSAC, go to vsac.org/financialaid and check out our online workshops and events. To find out about our programs for adult students, go to vsac.org/adultlearners. You can also call 800-642-3177, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and visit online at email@example.com.