This guest post is by Alex Gumm, a young man on the autism spectrum who is attending the Institute for the American Musical Theatre (IAMT). Alex 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!).

Every person on the face of the Earth has to work to get where they want to go in life. The same goes for people with autism; the only difference is that people with autism sometimes have to work harder, a lot harder. Even though I struggle with some things, I don’t let my autism define me. Hi, my name is Alex and I am a 22 years old student at the Institute for American Musical Theatre (IAMT).

I graduated from ASPIRE Academy in May of 2015 as Salutatorian and recipient of many awards.

My dream is to become a performer on Broadway as I continue to learn and attend at the Institute for American Musical Theatre. Dancing and theatre have both been a huge part of who I am. The world stops when I dance and I am completely at peace. Recently, I have been singing and acting which helps me learn how to use my breath, being in the moment, and being honest about what I say or what I do. One of the reasons why I chose IAMT is because it gives me an opportunity to learn from professional instructors that have been on Broadway or are currently on Broadway. They are offering dance classes, vocal lessons, acting skills, musical theatre history lectures, audition practices, and other classes that benefit my experience for Broadway and for other professional work in the performing arts.

Speaking of opportunities, helping and supporting others by doing service are something that we should all do. Community service has taught me a lot of good skills like how to connect and communicate with people. It also has helped increased my confidence because I realize that I can make more of a difference than I ever thought possible.

My parents, both school teachers, helped form a non-profit organization called Families for Effective Autism Treatments or “FEAT” of the Carson Valley. The mission of FEAT is to help families of children with autism in Northern Nevada. My parents, my sisters and I have been very involved with this organization since it formed in 2004. I share my story with people about what it’s like growing up with autism. Sharing a story may seem like a simple concept, but it gives people hope and hope is what sometimes helps us move forward, to be able to put one foot in front of the other. My older sister and I are currently writing a book together called The Missing Puzzle Piece to help others. Whatever that piece represents, or whatever role it plays, it should hopefully later on solve the unanswered questions of the awareness. We hope to publish our book soon. Besides helping out at autism fundraisers and events in my state, I like volunteering my time doing other things as well.

At ASPIRE Academy we were given opportunities to go out into the community to serve others. I have served the homeless in Reno, helped organize cans and goods at food drives, assisted a group of scientists with a willow project at the Nevada Nature Conservatory, and I volunteered at a local elementary school. I also hold free dance classes for children who can’t afford to dance. Helping others makes me appreciate the life I have. I like being a good role model and mentor to younger students, and most of all, serving others has helped me understand the greater meaning and purpose of life.

Growing up on the autism spectrum is a never ending obstacle course. You are being challenged every day to work on your behavior, your social life, and thinking process and it is difficult sometimes because it is hard to be normal like others. At a young age, I had dealt with being isolated and rejected from other kids. It was very hard to fit in with a group. I did not know why back then, but I believed it was how much I expressed excitement, frustration, and sadness towards someone or something. I remembered being told to calm down so many times as a kid. My social life was difficult as a kid, because I do not quite understand most what the conversations would be about. So I would either be completely mute or I would ask or say something and it would not quite make any sense to others because how I would word things. Later on, I listened to music and started dancing. Somehow, my life started to click and it was easier to talk to people and actually use the right words and use eye contact. Dance and music gave me rhythm which made it easier for me to be more connected not only with others, but with the world. Dance started to become more than just fun, it became therapeutic for me.

It was easier to connect with others socially that some people did not think that I had autism. So, because it brought back bad memories of how I behaved as a kid and prevented from being bullied and judged, I had to keep my autism a secret to those that do not see it. I realized during my senior year in high school that it started to hurt me to keep acting like what some say “perfect” when I could not be honest about who I truly am. With so much that I have improved and functioned with being social with others and improving in school, I pointed out some of the behavioral and mental habits as a kid and learned how I grew not only from being autistic, but how I have grown as an adult. So I had a testimony held at my high school one day and confessed about who I really am and what it was like living a life with autism and how much I have grown from it and learn to accept who I am and to let my character define myself and not my autism. I remembered all of the side conversations and whispering completely vanished when I said that I had autism. Some students dropped jaws, some were in surprise, and some started to cry. Even some teachers started to cry because some did not know either. It was then everyone started to accept me for who I am.

If I had something to say to the autism community, learn to love for who you are no matter what you are and what you have. Be honest with yourself. Do not let other people use autism to define you. Life is not always easy, but there is always a bit of love and joy around you and you have to know how to seek it.

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.