This guest post is by Matthew Pricea young man on the autism spectrum who has been accepted into West Virginia University, studying Lingustics. Avery 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.

I said my first word at two months old. I don’t think many people believe my parents when they tell that story, but they swear it’s true. They also say that I didn’t play the same way most kids play, preferring to see how things worked than to play traditionally. As their only child for two years, they didn’t have much to compare my behavior to and just thought I was a super smart toddler. When I was in kindergarten, I came home with a “red slip” nearly every day. A red slip was a note to my parents that I had misbehaved in some way and had exceeded all warnings. My mom held countless conferences with my teacher, trying to figure out why I was having so much difficulty. She was told that I wasn’t going to make it in first grade. I did make it through. In second grade, my teacher noticed that I had difficulty focusing and staying on task. Rather than punish me, she requested that a psychologist observe me in the classroom. Within months, we had answers for why I was different. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder characterized primarily by social difficulties. Having a diagnosis didn’t mean that my troubles disappeared though. Over the years, I have navigated my way through challenges, both at home and in school. I went through all of elementary and middle school looking for a place to fit in, trying numerous different activities and sports. I have been bullied for being different. I’ve had “friends” who didn’t want to play with me because they thought I was annoying, coaches who cared more about winning than about teaching a child how to be a part of a team, teachers who said I wouldn’t do well in advanced classes because I “ask too many questions.”

Growing up with Asperger’s, I’ve struggled to understand people and they’ve struggled to understand me. When I become overstimulated by too much noise, large crowds, or unfamiliar situations, I shut down and that’s not “normal.” I frequently hear, “you don’t look like you have autism!” or “I never would have known you are autistic; you seem so normal.” But what is normal? I frequently have difficulty focusing on the task at hand. Social cues, innuendos, and figures of speech don’t mean the same thing to me as to someone without autism. Over the years, I have observed people, trying to figure out coping mechanisms and ways to fit in. Everybody has quirks and mannerisms that make them unique. I just don’t hide mine and that makes me different. Different enough to be bullied. Different enough to be rejected.

Different, but enough. My grades have never been perfect, but I’m closing out my high school career in the top third of my class. My parents have instilled in me a will to persevere, to not give up when things don’t go as planned. My saving grace has been music. I found an activity that I loved and a place where everyone is valued. I have spent my high school years surrounded by people who love what they do and I will seek that out for my life and career. As someone on the autism spectrum, I believe that strong passion is a necessary foundation to life. Music has allowed me to participate in Regional Honor Band, West Virginia All-State Band and All State Honor Jazz Band, the Don Redman Jazz Academy, the Cumberland Jazz Society All-Star Big Band, All County Orchestra, show choir, and indoor percussion.  I have received Superior Ratings at the West Virginia Music Educators Association Solo & Ensemble festival and serve as president of the Tri-M Music Honor Society at my school.  On May 3, 2019, I successfully tried out to be drum major of my high school marching band.

I have a passion for music, a language in and of itself, but I also have a passion for learning languages and cultures. The little boy who spoke at two months old is all grown up now and plans to pursue a career in linguistics. Having Asperger’s has allowed me to be more observant of the language and culture of others and I am excited to using these strengths in the years to come. I received an award for being the best foreign language student and I am looking forward to exploring the expansive options in the World Languages, Literatures and Linguistics program at West Virginia University.

So am I different? Yes, of course. But I am enough. I am strong enough to not bow to social pressure. I am proud enough to hold my head high and not let my limitations define me. I am confident enough to share how my experience with autism is a strength, not a weakness. I am enough.

Follow my journey on Facebook, my Facebook Fan Page, & Instagram!

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.