This guest post is by Tessa D’Souza, a young woman on the autism spectrum who has been accepted and is attending Taylor University studying Cybersecurity. Tessa is applying for the Spring 2020 Making a Difference Autism Scholarship via the nonprofit KFM Making a Difference started by me, Kerry Magro. I was nonverbal till 2.5 and diagnosed with autism at 4 and you can read more about my organization here. Can I ask for a favor? I’m trying to make this nonprofit self-sufficient so I can make this my full-time job supporting the special needs community and would appreciate you taking a minute before reading on to watch this video below and subscribing to our Youtube page here to get to learn more about the work we do in the community.
I hope you can support my nonprofit like I’m trying to support these students with scholarship aid for college. Learn more on how you can help our cause with a small donation (just asking for $3 today, equal to your daily cup of coffee) here.
When I turn 40, I’m going to have a birthday party. Most people who know me understand that, while I love birthdays, being on the Autism Spectrum makes parties difficult for me, but my 40th birthday will be different. On that day, I will be celebrating living past my life expectancy. Some people who comorbidly experience learning disabilities and autism have unfortunately died from suicide at a rate nearly ten times that of the general population. This is such a common story because of the lack of support and acceptance from friends and family and a lack of resources and understanding from the medical and educational communities. I hope to create a world where more of us live to celebrate our 40th birthdays.
When my guests arrive at my 40th birthday party, I will remember the social pains of my school years, when I rarely got invited to birthday parties. I was often complimented on my confidence and self-assurance–a hard shell that masked my confusion and discomfort in every social situation. Most of my friends were teachers, who would praise my ability to be myself, but I did not know who I was and I felt so alone and different from my peers. The guests at my party won’t be the kids who called me names in grade school or the students and parents who excluded me in high school. Instead, my party will be filled with the smiling faces of the people who’ve loved, encouraged, and challenged me to learn and grow. They will be friends and family from college and beyond who, instead of treating me poorly because of my autism, have cared enough to look past my special interests, meltdowns, and hatred of hearing them eat, to love the real Tessa.
When we play party games, I’ll remember the many teachers and classrooms that were safe spaces for me and the even more that were not. I will reflect on the accommodations my mother was able to make in our homeschool classroom–how she would painfully make dots on pages for me to trace the letters and did not force me to write until I was ready in third grade, how she let me move and take breaks whenever I wanted, and how she adapted her teaching style to make it possible for me to learn rather than ignoring my learning disabilities. Many of my teachers and educational support staff from middle school to college have been kind and understanding of the problems I face when learning. So many have gone above and beyond to find audio versions of textbooks, make testing accommodations for me, offer extra office and help hours, and allow me to re-attempt assignments after I feel confident in the course material. They’ve been resources for academic learning and life advice, and most of them have chosen not to give up on me, even though it might be the easiest choice.
Unfortunately, like some people with autism and learning disabilities, not all of my teachers have been so supportive. Some have found loopholes to ignore my accommodations, many have told me that I was using my disabilities as an excuse, and still, others have denied me entry to their classes because of their personal biases. As I interact with current and future educators at my University and in my daily life, I make a point, to be honest about my diagnosis and advocate for the Autistic students in every class, hoping there will be one more supportive teacher in their life.
Perhaps, when I cut my 40th birthday cake, I will be surrounded by my own children, who may be on the Autism Spectrum, just like their mom. As I celebrate with them, I hope that the world I’ve helped to create for them is one that provides autistic people with love, support, and resources we need to flourish. Nearly 20 years ago, I was born into a world where Autism was considered a disease caused by vaccines that ruined children and their families. Nearly 20 years from now, my children should live in a world where autism is nothing to be scared or ashamed of, and just as worth celebrating as my 40th birthday.
My name is Kerry Magro, a professional speaker and best-selling author who is also on the autism spectrum that started the nonprofit KFM Making a Difference in 2011 to help students with autism receive scholarship aid to pursue a post-secondary education. Help support me so I can continue to help students with autism go to college by making a tax-deductible donation to our nonprofit here.