On paper, Meyer Kachel holds his own against the competition to get accepted to college: He's enrolled in two advanced-level courses this year and has an IQ of 138.
But how to have a conversation or behave in public is a mystery to the Robinson Secondary School senior, who began reading long before kindergarten.
He jokes to his mother, who grew up on Long Island and prayed for a child who was artistic, that God misunderstood her New York accent and gave her an autistic one instead.
Kachel has a form of the neurological disorder known as Asperger's syndrome. Although he wants to keep studying math, his mother feared he would never be able to go to college because of his disorder. But yesterday they attended a forum about options after high school for students with disabilities.
"This gave me hope," Margaret Meyer said and then started to cry. "I want for him to be successful."
An estimated 950 students and their parents attended the daylong program, called Future Quest, at George Mason University. It was sponsored, in part, by a coalition of administrators at seven Northern Virginia school districts who work with students with disabilities. More than a dozen colleges sent representatives.
Most of the students at the forum have common learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, attention deficit disorder or difficulties with reading or writing.
Some teenagers wondered whether their disability would prevent them from attending college. Others wanted information about career opportunities immediately following 12th grade.
"I want to work with my hands," said Dana Grice, a senior at Fairfax County's Hayfield Secondary School who has a learning disability. "I'm comfortable doing it."
He filled out several job applications for building trades apprenticeships.
Organizers said they hope the forum will show disabled students that they are entitled to the same educational opportunities as other students but must be sure they are provided the help they need to succeed.
"It's all about becoming empowered," said Karen Shea, the co-chair of Future Quest and an administrator for Fairfax County public schools.
Workshops ranged from ways to navigate the college application process to study tips designed to boost achievement on campus. Colleges and social service groups set up tables with information and answered questions.
Ellen Fisher and her mother came from Arlington to find out what accommodations a private university could offer a student with disabilities. Fisher, who attends Washington-Lee High School, needs extra time to take standardized tests and a tutor to help with course work.
After meeting with a handful of college representatives, she said they were willing to help her.
"I find it a little too good to be true," said Fisher, who wants to major in international relations and possibly work for the State Department.
Megan Reese has a 4.0 grade-point average at Robinson, although she has trouble understanding class lectures. She hopes to attend Virginia Tech and study physical therapy, but she said the college application process is too stressful even to think about.
"I was kind of nervous about coming," she said about Future Quest, which she admitted was helpful.
For 20 years, Catholic University has been offering support services to students with disabilities, including counselors and tutors, said Bonnie McClellan, the school's acting director of disability support services.
She said she advised students to disregard their disability when researching schools. After they've narrowed their choices, they should find out how the schools can accommodate them. And they will.
"No one should assume they can't go to college," she said.
CAPTION: Ann Deschamps, right, of the ADA Information Center, talks with Theresa Howdeshell and her son Chris, a Thomas Jefferson senior.