Autistic student takes fourth in Cloverleaf Spelling Bee

Published 8:38 am Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Brandywine's top speller at the Cloverleaf Spelling Bee was Brandon Kirkendall, who placed fourth. Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT

Brandywine’s top speller at the Cloverleaf Spelling Bee was Brandon Kirkendall, who placed fourth. Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT

An autistic Brandywine Elementary School student put on an inspiring performance at the regional Cloverleaf Spelling Bee, finishing a school-best fourth place Tuesday at Lake Michigan College.

Debbie Kirkendall said her son, Brandon, was diagnosed with mild autism at age 3, but is now considered high functional autistic.

Brandon’s special education teacher, Lynn Mickiewicz, sat beside him on the stage in between rounds of spelling. He also had a small squishy ball to squeeze, helping him stay calm in front of the large crowd.

Brandon outlasted some of Berrien and Van Buren counties’ best spellers, correctly spelling several words, including “androcentric,” “cadenza,” “notochord” and “bibliotherapy.”

With just four competitors remaining, Brandon misspelled “rectigrade,” to end his run. He spelled it “r-e-c-t-a-g-r-a-d-e.”

After spelling it wrong, Brandon said, “Oh well, “I didn’t know that word,” as he walked off stage.

“I may not have won, but at least I did better than last year,” said Brandon, who finished 18th a year ago.

Debbie said Brandon sometimes has trouble handling defeat, but did well with it Tuesday.

“To me that was the greatest achievement of the spelling bee — him not coming in first and just going on with life,” she said. “How far he’s progressed since he was 3 years old till now is just amazing to everybody that knows him.”

Brandon won $125 cash and a dictionary.

Cameron Haynes, of Lakeshore Lifelong Learners, won the Cloverleaf by spelling “halogen.” He earned a trip to compete in the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., along with other prizes.

Brandywine fifth-grader Megan Wieger also performed well, finishing in the top 15, while Ring Lardner’s Alliea Harness placed in the top 20.

Students finishing 11th through 20th received a Pizza Hut gift certificate.


Results for local spellers:

Buchanan — Lexi Carrigan 44th, Robert Fay 23rd, Taylor Vite 55th, Serynn Nowlin 59th

Ring Lardner — Alliea Harness 17th, Lindsay Eichenberg 35th, Taylor Altergott 58th

Brandywine — Brandon Kirkendall 4th, Megan Wieger 15th, Kadence Ryder 51st