2023 Students of Distinction

Katelyn Gillespie overcame autism, found success at Henderson Bay

Posted on May 12th, 2023 By:

Gig Harbor Now is posting profiles of each of the Students of Distinction being honored by the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation. The students will be honored during a banquet from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, May 17, 2023, at Ocean5, 5268 Point Fosdick Dr.

Student: Katelyn Gillespie

School: Henderson Bay High School

Category: Overcoming Adversity Achievement

Katie Gillespie has found her voice – and found success – at Henderson Bay. After struggling with autism all her life, it was only when she transferred to HBHS in her junior year that the real Katie emerged.

For years she struggled with school and in social situations. In her own words, she didn’t understand why she simply couldn’t do the things other kids could.

In class, the lights were too bright, she couldn’t filter out all the sounds and couldn’t stand to be touched. She was afraid to ask her teachers for help, was always quiet in class and felt invisible. And that’s how most of her teachers treated her. It seemed unlikely that she would ever graduate.

Finding hope

But in her junior year she and her parents realized that she needed a totally different, unique, outside-the-box way of teaching. She transferred to Henderson and that made all the difference.

By the second semester her grades were on track. She actually understood things, “and for once I felt that perhaps I could graduate,” she said. She’s been a straight-A student and has taken a leadership position in school — and has enough credits to graduate early.

Her favorite part of high school has been the art classes, especially working with clay. “Clay helps me with my sensory issues,” she said. She loves to create animals from clay.

And if she ever had access to a kiln, she’d like to try doing pottery. She also likes make black and white pencil drawings and use acrylic paints and markers. One thing she’s learned is that “perfectionism is a huge enemy of art. It’s OK to go outside of the lines and to feel free to do something unusual and different.”

Forming connections

“I struggled for so many years trying to fit in a neurotypical world, trying to learn something the way a book said I should, that I lost myself,” she said. That so many teachers – before Henderson – let her slip through the cracks was her biggest challenge.

But she’s proud of the connections she has formed with her teachers at Henderson Bay. Instead of being fearful, Katie has found three teachers that she has “really connected with — and one has become my best friend. The teachers have been so instrumental in helping me overcome many of my mental struggles simply by allowing me to be me, learn at my own pace and do things I’m passionate about and find creative ways for me to learn and grow.”

In her own words, Katie has learned to articulate herself, to find her voice and speak openly about autism and become an advocate for others who’re struggling the same way she is.

She looks forward to working in the health care field and to eventually be a pharmacy technician.

Her advice to younger kids: “If you’re having a hard time or struggling – and worried about asking a teacher – go and make the connection and ask for help. They will help you succeed. And just because you’ve gotten some kind of diagnosis doesn’t mean you will fail. You can find someone to help you. You can succeed.”

Katelynn Gillespie

Parents: Patrick & Amy Gillespie

Activities/ Achievements: ASB and leadership; Interact Club; Fish Bowl Food Drive leadership team; clothing drive volunteer