This guest post is by Payton Bowling, a young woman on the autism spectrum who has been accepted and will be attending University of Indianapolis majoring in Spanish. Payton 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!).
I remember that when I was in kindergarten, every kid had their name written near the top of the whiteboard. If someone got in trouble, the teacher would erase their name and write it near the bottom. Every Monday, the names started back at the top of the board again. My kindergarten teacher was nice, and I liked her. But she was an older woman who wasn’t very flexible and expected children to behave as they were supposed to. I remember asking my friends one day, “Why can’t I ever keep my name on top? How do you guys never get yelled at?” and they said something like, “We do what the teacher says, and we don’t get in trouble!” They said it as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, like it was effortless. But I was lost and confused, and these things were hard! How did they sit still at naptime? How did they resist making a fort with their mats and their desks during movie time? I didn’t understand. Even before I was diagnosed with anything, I knew I was different from the other kids.
I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder around 3rd or 4th grade, but as time passed it became clear that there were other symptoms that weren’t accounted for by ADHD. For one, I talked about nothing but Pokémon in middle school. In 7th or 8th grade, I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Throughout my childhood, I went to a therapist who helped me understand social situations and interactions. I went to camps and classes and social groups for kids with autism. These certainly helped, but it must have put a lot of stress on my parents. I couldn’t sit still in class, and would often hum, tap my pencil on my desk loudly, and generally annoy my classmates.
The summer before 4th grade, my parents asked me if I wanted to be in the Alice in Wonderland musical at a local community theatre. I said yes, and that was the beginning of a passion I have held to this day. During that time, I learned about facial expressions, gesturing, and tone of voice. In theatre, all of these things have to be exaggerated so that the audience, who is far away, can pick up on them. I think this helped me see more nuanced emotions more clearly. Because things were rehearsed over and over again, I got to practice my part and see others’ parts over and over again. The show was sort of like an ‘easy mode’ to understanding relationships and social exchanges. It wasn’t without its challenges, though. I remember playing with the curtains, talking too loud, sitting down onstage when I wasn’t supposed to, and other things.
I’ve been shaped by theatre- and not just because I learned about social interactions. I’ve been involved in 11 theatre productions in my life. I made most of my friends in high school through theatre. In fact, all of my friends in high school I’ve made through some extracurricular I love- Academic Spell Bowl, band, and tennis. While I was terrified of high school at first and afraid I’d be bullied, most people were really nice and the teachers didn’t give us loads of homework right away. I’d always felt behind the rest of my classmates and sometimes still do, but I matured pretty quickly once I got to high school. I gradually got more involved in Spell Bowl and became Captain late my sophomore year. That was also the year I got the Director’s Choice award. I even joined the tennis team my junior year, despite never having played a school sport in my life (though I still haven’t managed to get very good at it!) I got a summer job at the YMCA. I’m going to college next year, and I’m more excited than nervous. I’m going to live at home for the first year to ease the transition and also cut down on costs, but I’ll probably stay on campus most of the day working on homework, working a campus job, and doing extracurriculars, and just go back home to sleep. If the me from 5 or 6 years ago could see me right now, I’m pretty sure her jaw would drop. But I didn’t figure it out all at once. I did it one day at a time.
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.