This guest post is by Landen Waymire, a young man on the autism spectrum who was accepted into Northern Arizona University Honors College. Landen is applying for the Spring 2021 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.
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.
Autism is medically (and legally) classified as a disability. That much is a fact. However, simply because it is classified as such does not mean it is. I believe it is a matter of perspective. Autism is only a disability if you see it as such. Sure, it makes you inherently different from the average person, but is that such a bad thing? Albert Einstein, a world-renowned genius likely was autistic to some degree. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates? Both likely were autistic, and led the charge in the field of electronic devices like computers and smartphones. Temple Grandin, an autistic woman known for reforming the cattle industry to be more humane, is autistic. All of the aforementioned people grew up to be immensely successful, and revolutionaries in their respective fields. I believe there are three main reasons for this: perspective, a heightened sense of empathy, and most importantly some deal with some struggles without giving up.
Perspective is a unique thing. It is a simple word, but with massive implications. Perspective determines everything, how one thinks, how one acts, and what one believes. In my experience, autistic people inherently possess a different perspective simply because they process information in a unique fashion. Personally, I have always had a unique perspective on everything, be it the world around me, history, a news article, or a social situation. This has allowed me a greater degree of critical thinking both in and out of the classroom. One notable time my perspective being unique allowed me to help someone else was a time at therapy when I was much younger. I was wrapping up a session, and noticed a little girl was crying while working with her therapist. At a quick glance, I figured out the problem; the girl had some kind of putty on her hands. It was a necessary exercise for people with sensory issues (like myself) in order to desensitize them, but I couldn’t help but think it wasn’t quite working with this particular little girl. I realize now what I did then could have been perceived as rude if done anywhere else, but I walked over to the therapist and suggested that the little girl might be less upset if she knew the putty would wash off. I had that perspective because a few years prior, I was that little girl and feared that it never would. I walked out before I saw the therapist have the little girl wash off her hands, but upon returning for my next visit I asked how my suggestion had worked, and (somewhat) to my surprise, she said it worked wonderfully and would be something she would incorporate into further exercises.
My ability to perceive what could help that little girl is also a good example of the heightened empathy inherent in autistic people. Autistic people are uniquely in touch with their emotions, and because of this empathy comes naturally. Autistic people know what it is like to be misunderstood, and therefore want to ensure nobody else feels that way. This was most certainly the case for Temple Grandin. After seeing the inhumane way cattle were housed and ultimately slaughtered in the cattle industry, she revolutionized the process in order to make it more humane for the cattle. The old way worked fine, after all, that was how it had been done for decades if not centuries, but Grandin could not bear to see the terror in the eyes of the cattle once they realized they were headed to their deaths. Her empathy is what drove her to do the research and work she needed to do in order to change it.
Temple Grandin is also an excellent example of perseverance, and knowing how to struggle without giving up or trying to “fit in.” She was bullied mercilessly in school because she was “odd,” but she found a kind-hearted teacher and set a goal for herself: become a scientist. Once she set this goal, with the help of Mr. Carlock (the aforementioned teacher) she worked to become an expert animal behaviorist. Temple Grandin was not the only one either. Albert Einstein struggled immensely in school, and many people believed him stupid for that. But once he dropped out, he began to reach heights nobody could have imagined. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were both immensely eccentric, and for that they were bullied nearly incessantly for being “nerds” and “geeks” long before either word was even remotely empowering. Yet, both grew up to be successful technology moguls. So why were those four able to be successful when so many others couldn’t be? I believe it is because they had to work harder and overcome more obstacles in childhood than many people have to in a lifetime, and that allowed them to build a spirit of perseverance and grit.
Being autistic certainly makes a person different than most. A little eccentric, perhaps. But autistic people have so much to offer. Where would the world be without Albert Einstein? And Bill Gates? And Steve Jobs? And Temple Grandin? Had those four people not been “weird” or “odd” they would not have been able to be nearly as revolutionary as they were. Autism provides a unique perspective because it requires a person to walk the proverbial “road less traveled” for most if not all of their life, and because of this they develop a heightened sense of empathy combined with a familiarity with strife, allowing them to take any obstacle in stride. Autistic people might not be able to fly, but they certainly make life better for those around them, making them superheroes in their own right.
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.