This guest post is by McKenzie Later, a young woman on the autism spectrum who has been accepted into BYUI studying Fine Arts. McKenzie 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.

Happiness. Excitement. Regret. These were all the emotions I felt after my last invitational debate tournament my senior year. I was happy because I almost made it to finals for the first time competing with a new speech. I was excited because my coach and I were confident this speech would do well at National Qualifiers. Yet I felt a sense of regret because it felt like “too little, too late.” You see, I wrote a great speech detailing my personal experience with being on the Autism spectrum and the debate community. I wish I had been brave enough to write this speech sooner. National Qualifiers came and when I made it to semifinals, my excitement grew, but I still felt that twinge of regret. Making it to finals brought enough happiness to hide the regret, but it later returned.

You see, for 4 years I had competed in speech and debate, but I had never considered myself successful. Judges often commented on my lack of eye contact, slow mannerisms, tendency to be monotone, and lack of emotion. It didn’t occur to me until my junior year that every single comment judges were making related to my autism. But even after I realized that, I had no idea what to do about it. I had already written a speech about autism, but the same comments kept showing up as well as new comments about how I didn’t act stereotypically autistic.

My senior year, my debate coach, who has a son on the spectrum, inspired me to write a speech voicing all of my frustrations; a speech talking about all of the problems in the debate community and offering solutions. But writing a speech like this takes time, and I didn’t get it done until the very end of the year. I was only able to compete with it for one tournament. I was excited but wasn’t expecting much because there were so many people who had been performing and perfecting their speeches all year. I was surprised when I almost made it to the finals. You already heard how National Qualifiers went, so I’m not going to talk about it again. Instead, let’s fast forward to today.

It’s been a few months since then and I’ve had plenty of time to think about the whole experience. I’ve come to the conclusion that I wish I had been brave enough to speak out my Freshman year. I’m not sure I would’ve been capable of writing that speech my Freshman year, but I wish I would have at least been brave enough to tell my judges about my autism. Judges would have probably been a lot more sympathetic towards me and maybe would’ve written a lot nicer comments on my ballots. I’m not sure what all would have changed but perhaps I would have gone to state or even nationals one year. I would have probably been happier at debate tournaments and would have been less stressed all the time. If I could write a letter to my freshman self, I would surely mention that telling judges that you have autism is a good idea.

This will always be on my list of regrets, but I’ve learned not to let my regrets control my life. Instead, I look at all the good things that happened because of debate. I think about the kills I’ve learned, and the friends that I made. My lack of bravery will always be a regret of mine, but I hope to share my story in order to inspire hope and bravery in others who may be in similar situations. Be brave. Be hopeful. No regrets.

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.