As a young boy, Timothy Grebeck, who is autistic, was picked on by his classmates.
“I used to get bullied because my peers saw that I was different, but they didn’t know why,” recalls Grebeck.
Grebeck could have gotten angry with them. He could have become withdrawn. Instead, he did what comes naturally to him. He began to educate his classmates on what it means to be on the Autism Spectrums Disorder.
“Since middle school, I have been talking about my diagnosis to help people around me to understand autism,” said Grebeck, who received his diagnosis at age 7.
Those teachable moments put Grebeck on the path to enrolling in the University of Pittsburgh School of Education’s CASE teacher certification program. The program allows students to earn both a bachelor’s degree in applied developmental psychology and a master’s degree in special education, as well as dual teaching certifications in elementary education and special education.
Grebeck, who is expected to graduate in April of 2020, has excelled at the Pitt School of Education. He founded the organization Talking 4 Autism, which seeks to give listeners a deeper understanding of autism through open and honest conversations. From sharing funny anecdotes about his disorder, to explaining what his needs are, to explaining how to create a more welcoming space, Grebeck gives people a lens into what it is like to engage with individuals like him.
In recognition of his impact on the community, Grebeck received the 2019 Dick Thornburgh Disability Service Award from the University of Pittsburgh. He was honored this past October at a luncheon where he met Thornburgh, a former governor of the State of Pennsylvania with children and families affected by disabilities.
Grebeck officially started Talking 4 Autism in his sophomore year. At the time, he was attending Point Park University and had begun receiving offers to speak in classes, at conferences, and other events. Through his outreach, his primary goal is to transform people’s understanding of autism by promoting awareness and acceptance.
“Tim is a true joy to have in the classroom. He teaches us as much as we teach him. Not only is he brilliant, but he is authentic and one of the most self-aware individuals I know,” said Anna Arlotta-Guerrero, assistant professor of practice and coordinator of the CASE program at the Pitt School of Education.
Arlotta-Guerrero has worked closely with Grebeck for several years. She has seen him gain experience in teaching through his student-teaching assignments in elementary and special education settings.
Grebeck treasures the four student-teaching experiences he has had while at Pitt Education.
“I love my kids,” he said. “Our brains work very similarly, I see the world in a concrete fashion, and so do they. I'm able to explain higher-level concepts in a way they can understand. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing their faces light up when they finally solve the problem. In truth, I still feel like that a lot, too.”
Through his work in the CASE program and Talking 4 Autism, Grebeck communicates a different approach to learning. “I encourage people to ask things that are uncomfortable to talk about because that is how everyone learns,” he said.
To Grebeck, changing public perception of autism means changing people’s perceptions one person at a time. “The world is a big and confusing place, but through open dialogue, we have the ability to teach each other how to better navigate it. I’m here to help others do exactly that,” he said.
The inclusive mindset helped Grebeck in middle school and has served him well ever since.
About the CASE Teacher Certification program at the Pitt School of Education
About the Dick Thornburgh Disability Service Award
About Talking 4 Autism, the group founded by Grebeck