Future ASU student Jimi "Monty" Hernandez is a high achiever with lots of hobbies. He's an animal shelter volunteer, video gamer, practices karate and is considered twice-exceptional. One day, he hopes to be a neurosurgeon. And he's only 12 years old.
Hernandez is currently a senior at Skyline High School in Mesa and will begin taking classes for his biochemistry degree on a premed track in the Fall 2022 semester. In addition to being unusually young to be starting college, Hernandez is considered twice-exceptional.
"Monty was in special education from ages 3 to 5. After IQ testing him at 8 years old, we found out he was profoundly gifted and twice-exceptional," said Danielle Roberts-Hernandez, Hernandez's mother.
According to the National Association for Gifted Children, twice-exceptional students "have the characteristics of gifted students with the potential for high achievement and give evidence of one or more disabilities as defined by federal or state eligibility criteria."
Hernandez has high-functioning autism, ADHD, a connective tissue disorder and a dilated aorta, a potentially life-threatening heart defect. Hernandez manages medical appointments and school work while still making time for hobbies and volunteer work, including volunteering at the Hadley Home for Wayward Cats.
"I still play Roblox quite often," Hernandez said.
Hernandez is also a member of Mensa, a "non-political round-table society" whose members fall within the upper 2% of the general population based on approved intelligence tests.
"At the Mensa convention, I basically rejected the age groupings," Hernandez said. "I was with the younger kids. They were talking about stuff that isn't real but could hypothetically exist. I didn't care because it's not real in the moment so I have no interest in it."
After moving from California to Arizona two years ago, Hernandez began taking classes at Skyline High School. He had a positive experience with Skyline administrators, who have helped him receive his needed aid based on his special circumstances.
Hernandez and his family had to work to get his IEP, or Individualized Education Program, approved before he could begin classes at Skyline. An IEP lays out a personalized program of instructions, supports and services students need in order to make progress and thrive in school.
"When I went in on the first day, they immediately took me over to the enrollment office to help get his paperwork in order. There were some bumps along the road, but we knew they would get worked out," Roberts-Hernandez said.
In order to attend school and receive learning accommodations at the university level, Hernandez and his family are working to process his IEP in Arizona.
"Monty speaks and engages with people in a very confident manner. He is able to speak up in regards to what his needs and challenges are. Monty doesn't shrink away from a challenge. He wants to challenge himself and is not looking for a free pass," said Tanya Loftis, sophomore assistant principal at Skyline High School.
Since he is only 12 years old, Hernandez's scholarship opportunities are limited. ASU has offered Hernandez a merit scholarship, but the family has also set up a GoFundMe to help pay for Hernandez's tuition and medical expenses. As of Monday, the fundraiser has raised just over $3,400 of its $100,000 goal.
"A lot of kids that are twice-exceptional aren't given the chance to reach their full potential. Their disabilities are looked at as a sign of immaturity and an inability to move forward with their education," Roberts-Hernandez said. "People, teachers and administrators need to know that our educational system is not, in general, helping these children like they should."
Hernandez said that he is not nervous to begin classes at ASU because he learns best via in-person instruction.
"My favorite classes are math and science," Hernandez said. "I'm excited to be taking classes on campus next year."
Lauren Kobley is a reporter for the Community and Culture desk at The State Press. She has previously interned with the Fountain Hills Times.