This guest post is by Matthew Clarke a young man on the autism spectrum who was accepted into Jacksonville University. Matthew 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.
While for many attending college is a given or forced upon by parents, for me, attaining a college degree is the first step in my road to independence.
I was diagnosed with PDD-NOS at the age of three. Growing up in the spectrum has come with many challenges throughout my entire life. I started my education as a full-time Special Ed student, with the help of regular therapies until my early teenage years, I was able to transition into traditional classrooms and by the time I reached High School, I was even able to successfully complete Chemistry, Biology and Physics Dual Enrollment classes.
However, that is just a highlight reel of my life so far. The reality is that the road has been far from easy and I am nowhere near my destination.
Most that knew me at a young age would arguably say that I had an interesting childhood. From daycare escapades to starting to reading college books at a really early age to my fascination with military aircrafts and ships, needless to say, I did not have a traditional childhood. As I grew older, I enjoyed collecting knowledge, facts and gaining a deeper understanding of things that were foreign to me at the time, such as how does nuclear energy works, how does radioactive decay work and biological explanations to where do babies come from.
Entering the schools system wasn’t easy. While I don’t remember much, in conversations with my mother, she recalls the endless IEP meetings where Special Ed advisor and teachers were dismissive of my diagnosis because I didn’t fit their idea of autism, instead, they would recommend I be placed on medication for ADD. What I do remember is having the teachers tell me I was not meeting expectations but on every reading and comprehension test, I would score significantly above my peers. It was in this that I found confidence in my capabilities. Around early sixth grade, I became more aware that I had very specific academic interests and that classes I felt that gave me answers that I could concretely understand, were Sciences and Math.
As I entered High School, I experience some regression in my penmanship, which meant I was back to therapy. It was also during my freshman that my parents shared my diagnosis with me, in an effort to encourage me to advocate for myself and by my sophomore year I could start to see and understand why. I was always well behaved and excel in fact-driven classes but would really struggle in literature and composition classes. It would take me significantly longer to complete essays and needed much support from my family to maintain my grades. This was a struggle that the faculty was not seeing, teachers would often dismiss my IEP accommodations and at times even attempt to eliminate my IEP. Thankfully, along the way I found allies in some teachers and my biggest advocates, my parents, were always there to ensure I would get the accommodations needed to succeed.
As I move into the next chapter of my life, I am learning to be mindful of my reality. I have taken several steps towards achieving a career and work towards my independence. First, I’ve chosen a degree in a field that relies heavily on my strengths, such as fact-driven data and good structure as opposed to creative thinking. This maximizes my chances for success, as I pursue not only my college education and ultimately my ability to become self-reliant. Secondly, I chose JU because with an 11:1 student to teacher ratio, JU offers a better learning experience than others. This is particularly important to me, because having a personal learning experience and access to professors who are invested in developing students’ abilities, can make all the difference in my ability to succeeding in college, which is the first building block in my ability to reach independence.
Education has not only empowered me but broaden the possibilities of what my future can be. I am well aware of the challenges that I will face in the workforce but I believe having a degree will help amplify my voice in a world that is not always giving to people like me. I am choosing to get a college education because through education, I learned I can exist in spaces outside of the boundaries set for me by society and I hope that along my journey, I can influence other to not let ASD define them and help change the narrative so many people assume of what life as an Adult with ASD can be.
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.