This guest post is by Bea Mienik, a young woman on the autism spectrum who was accepted into New York University. Bea is applying for the Spring 2022 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.
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.
I always had a hard time explaining why I love performing. My default answer, the one that everyone most enjoys hearing, was: “because I want to inspire others.” It’s true, of course, but it’s not The Real Answer. The Real Answer, quite simply, is: “because there’s no nonsense – everything is right there, as it is.”
For anyone who has ever asked, The Real Answer has been unsatisfactory, so I stopped providing it altogether. People mostly only listen with an ear tuned to what they want to hear, so I felt that it was my duty to serve them what they want.
A script and sheet music tell you everything you need to know: what words to say, what notes to sing and, most especially, how you’re supposed to feel. And, if you’re still confused on how you’re supposed to feel, you can ask the director.
When you do, they’re often impressed – they see it as your dedication to your craft and the production. What’s interesting, though, is that when you don’t know how to feel in a real life scenario, then “you’re emotionally unavailable,” “just plain weird,” or my personal favorite, courtesy of every adult I ever asked as a child – “talking back and being disrespectful.”
Growing up, I thought there was just something wrong with me when I didn’t understand how to feel, or when I didn’t understand an unspoken cue, or passive aggression. The amount of times I was told I was being “disrespectful” are too many to count. I distinctly remember one day during elementary school asking the librarian if I could use the computer. I used it to google “How to be polite.”
I never found it odd that I picked things up so quickly, or when I wanted to do something, I would have to do it right then and there, no breaks, and no stopping until it was perfectly complete. I still wouldn’t have found it odd a few weeks ago that I’m writing this at 2am, delirious with sleep but compelled by this inexplicable need to make happen the idea that woke me up a few minutes ago.
I didn’t see any abnormality in my obsession with BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL, even when my classmates rolled their eyes when I brought it up for the fifth time in a single class period. I thought it was normal to be so enthralled with a story that I had to know everything about it – every little detail – and was constantly on my mind.
At some point along the way, I began to sense something was off with me, and I grew ashamed. Why did I behave this way? It wasn’t right, I never felt right, and I needed to keep it hidden from those who came in contact with me. I did everything I could to make it stop, and I pretended to not like it anymore. I was miserable, but I was normal now. And that was the goal… right?
I only recently finished reading the Harry Potter series. It has become BEAUTIFUL all over again. The only difference is, I understand now.
In the series, Harry had things happen to him that he just couldn’t explain. Disappearing glass… rapid growing hair… being able to talk to snakes. I related to this a bit too much. Relative pitch… being able to predict melodies by hearing only the first few notes… not understanding the idea of “I can’t do it” because I always just did it.
Apparently there are rules about how you can and cannot act as a human being, and most everyone else just somehow knows them. I’ve never understood how I’m supposed to know this when it’s not written down anywhere, and no one has ever explained it to me. Where is the guidebook with these social rules and signals we’re all supposed to innately know?
Recently, I experienced a feeling that I can only describe as identical to how Harry Potter must have felt when he was told he is a wizard for the first time.
“You have Autism Spectrum Disorder.”
And then, everything made sense. Like magic.
For the first time in my life, I felt a sense of calm, of peace.
When I was unaware of my diagnosis, I was ashamed of my restricted interests. Now, I have a choice – would I become even more ashamed to have a way of seeing the world that society says is weird, or would I live my life with authenticity?
I think of Carole King, and how everyone told her that she couldn’t be a female composer. But she did it anyway. I also remember how I felt when I heard her strike the first chord of “Beautiful” for the first time. And then I think of Harry, and how he prevailed against the odds, even after he was told he could never succeed. I remember how I felt when I saw his expression change when he realized there wasn’t anything wrong with him. So many people tried to get in their way to make them shrink into the person society wanted them to be; and they simply said “no”.
People’s ears are mostly tuned to only listen for the words they want to hear. Even so, from now on when people ask me why I love theatre, I’ll tell them my truth: It’s all right there – just as it is, and I’m all right here – just as I am.
Yes, I want to inspire others, but not only with the particular story I’m involved with telling at the moment. If I can inspire them to be proud of and love who they are, I will have done my job.
Even if they don’t hear me, that’s okay with me, because it’s my truth, and no one else’s.
And, just for fun -my idea of fun- I’ll also share some cool, obscure trivia with them about BEAUTIFUL and Harry Potter, too.
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.