This guest post is by Lauren Stein, a young woman on the autism spectrum who has been accepted and will be attending University of Wisconsin – Whitewater majoring in Visual Arts. Lauren is applying for the Spring 2019 Making a Difference Autism Scholarship via the nonprofit KFM Making a Difference. You can read more about the organization and how to apply for our scholarship here. You can help our scholarship program continue to help these students by making a donation to our scholarship fund here (the majority of our scholarship program is ran through donors from our community such as yourself so no matter if you could donate anything, whether it be $5 anywhere up to $5,000 it would be making a difference!).

Did you just say, “Aspies, people with Asperger’s Syndrome, can’t succeed?” I’d laugh at this statement, but expressing emotions isn’t something that I do well. Aspies can succeed, Aspies are leaders, Aspies can go “up” in life.

“Up” was my first English word. It’s also an animated film that inspires me. I want to go “up”, earning a BFA in drawing and illustration. “Up” explains my background; overcoming obstacles that many other Aspies haven’t experienced. This makes me a worthy choice for a scholarship.

Born in Ukraine, I lived in an orphanage until I was adopted at three. When I came to the United States, I couldn’t speak, not Ukrainian, Russian, nor English. I needed to learn English and how to show emotions.

In kindergarten, my speech therapist told my parents that my verbal skills and intellectual abilities would be minimal, “don’t expect big things from her.” I wanted to prove him wrong. I did! At my elementary school graduation an award was given to a student who overcame challenges and succeeded in school. That same speech therapist nominated me; I received this award.

Expressing emotions is difficult for me. At eight I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, high-functioning autism. Despite being labeled “autistic”, I was determined to succeed. I’ll never let autism interfere with my goals of becoming an artist.

For someone who wasn’t expected to succeed, I’ve been on the Dean’s List and High Honor Roll. I attend Nicolet High School, a top high school in Wisconsin with extremely high standards and a rigorous curriculum. Despite my challenges, I maintain a 3.202 GPA in accelerated level and AP courses.

I’ve been chosen as an Exemplary Student and twice received the school’s Merit Award for positive attitude, leadership, and volunteerism. I earned my varsity letter for playing in the pep band. Additionally, I’m in the school’s Anime Club; this inspires my creativity.

I’m beginning to laugh; you doubted an Aspie’s ability to overcome challenges and succeed. We express emotions in our own way.

Many people with autism are non-verbal. Even with appropriate verbal skills there are times when it’s easier for me to express emotions through art rather than speaking. As a toddler I scribbled which led to drawing people. Human anatomy plays a role in expressing feelings. Drawing faces lets me show emotions that I may have difficulty expressing.

Visual arts is my passion. Drawing, cartooning, and animation are my favorite forms of art. In college I’ll pursue an art degree. I’ll learn and develop skills that will further my goal of creating cartoons featuring people with disabilities working to overcome their challenges. I’ll help other Aspies laugh and express emotions though my cartoons. I want to help make the world more accepting of people with disabilities.

Now you know we can succeed and even express emotions but I know, you’re still doubting an Aspies’ leadership abilities.

Leadership isn’t about having a forceful voice or dynamic presence; it comes from inside. Asperger’s hasn’t stopped me from being a leader in my own way.

At school I’m a role model. Through my positive attitude and volunteerism I demonstrate quiet leadership inspiring others to say, “if she can do it, so can I.”

At overnight summer camp I demonstrated my quiet leadership. I was eleven, my parents drove me to camp; they asked if I was excited. I wanted to be there but I was quiet. Other campers were expressing joy. These are the times when I have trouble expressing emotions.

The counselors knew I have autism. They tried to get me to show emotions, nothing worked. The girls in my cabin understood, as best as they could, about my disability. Clearly I was different.

Everything changed in the art studio. There, I wasn’t just equal to my non-disabled peers, I was a leader. My artwork was used for inspiration, showing how to convey emotion and passion. I demonstrated techniques and helped others. I was leading my fellow campers. I was finally expressing emotions: pride, confidence, and happiness. Outside the art room I struggled to be like them; inside the art room they struggled to be like me.

I’m a Girl Scout. It’s taught me ethics, kindness, the importance of helping others, and community service; all attributes that will benefit me as I progress through life. Girl Scouts also taught me about leadership.

At Girl Scout summer camp I was a junior counselor. I wasn’t the one leading songs. I was the leader in the background who girls would come to for a hand to hold during a nature hike or needing help with art. They looked up to me; the big girl who was there for them. A quiet and subtle role model, “I’m there for you”.

In college, I’ll be an inspiration for other students, especially those who have challenges. As a role model, I will energize, advocate, and continue to help others; inspiring my peers to say, “if she can do it, so can I.”

Dealing with my challenges hasn’t been easy. It’s taken effort, patience, determination, and desire. I’ll use these same traits to pursue a college education and also through life, after graduating.

My skills and traits helped me succeed when the odds were against me. I can achieve and want to continue going “up” in my life and career. I’ll show Aspies can succeed and lead. Receiving this scholarship will help me achieve my goals so this Aspie can sketch a bright future for herself.

Now I’m laughing at your statement that Aspies can’t lead and succeed. We can!

Follow Kerry’s journey on Facebook, his Facebook Fan Page, & Instagram!

Kerry Magro, a professional speaker and best-selling author who is also on the autism spectrum started the nonprofit KFM Making a Difference in 2011 to help students with autism receive scholarship aid to pursue a post-secondary education. Help us continue to help students with autism go to college by making a tax-deductible donation to our nonprofit here.

Also, consider having Kerry, one of the only professionally accredited speakers on the spectrum in the country, speak at your next event by sending him an inquiry here. If you have a referral for someone who many want him to speak please reach out as well! Kerry speaks with schools, businesses, government agencies, colleges, nonprofit organizations, parent groups and other special events on topics ranging from employment, how to succeed in college with a learning disability, internal communication, living with autism, bullying prevention, social media best practices, innovation, presentation best practices and much more!

We’d also appreciate if you could take a minute to create a Facebook Fundraiser to support our nonprofit’s scholarship fund! You can learn more about how you can do just that here.