Diagnosed Autistic At 4, Eagle Scouts, And My Hope To Be An Aerospace Engineer

This guest post is by Tory Ridgeway, a young man on the autism spectrum who was accepted into Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. Tory is applying for the Spring 2022 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.

Believe it or not, I attended three different Elementary schools in four years. The first was an Elementary School with a
Special Education Wing dedicated to Early Intervention. I liked this school, but it wasn’t my neighborhood school. Once I began Kindergarten, I attended neighborhood school. That school wasn’t meeting my needs so I was transferred. In the next school, I got into a lot of trouble that wasn’t my fault. None of the students wanted anything to do with me. I was also targeted because I’m a minority. The kids treated me badly and the school did nothing. I was even assaulted on the school bus. I suffered from PTSD because of my experience at that school. Finally, we found a great match. My parents actually paid into another school district to ensure I had the best possible chance of being safe, independent, and successful. This required my mom to drive 88 miles a day to get me to school. My parents were indeed committed to helping me to become an independent member of society. I thrived there. The environment in Calvert County Public Schools motivated me to unleash my full potential.

In that new school, I was fully included in a co-taught classroom. My 4th-grade teacher made sure I felt safe and constantly reassured me that I didn’t wouldn’t have to worry about being bullied. She was right. I was not bullied, however, making friends continued to prove to be very challenging. My 4th-grade teacher even nominated me to apply for my first scholarship. She believed in me! I had to compete with everyone within my school and region and I won! I beat over 487 candidates. After the news was public, I walked into my classroom and was honored by my peers. My whole class cheered for me because I was the first very first scholar to win the trophy at Windy Hill Elementary School. It filled my heart. I went on to earn the Repeat Scholar Award every year thereafter until graduation.

For the majority of my life, I was isolated from my peers. I can count the number of parties I’ve been invited to on one hand. I felt sad a lot, especially during lunch and at recess. Those experiences would later inspire my Boy Scout Eagle Project. It is, thus far, the achievement I am most proud of. I earned the Eagle Scout rank at age 14. For my Eagle Project, I hosted a presentation to my community to raise autism awareness and to described my journey. I also built Buddy Benches for two elementary schools. The purpose of the Buddy Benches is to help children who struggle to make friends. Neurotypical children are taught to notice any child sitting on the bench and include them in play. This teaches acceptance and empathy. It’s an opportunity to bring happiness to a child who may be sad. I chose this because I want to make the playground a better place for children. I painted the benches bright blue and wrote positive affirmations all over them.

Since I was six, I have wanted to join the US Navy and serve my country like my dad. I prepared for it too. I spent four years in NJROTC and graduated as a Chief Petty Officer. In my senior year, I applied for an NROTC Scholarship. I was transparent about being a person with autism in my application. During my formal in-person interview, I described how I was able to succeed despite having autism. I was selected to advance to the NROTC selection board. After judging my package in its entirety, I was awarded an NROTC scholarship. Again, with my full disclosure and their knowledge of my disability.

Two months later, I received letters stating that I did not meet established physical standards citing my disability. The Navy rescinded my scholarship. Despite that, the Navy still sent me orders to attend a four-week New Student Indoctrination (boot camp). That was the most grueling, intense four weeks of my life. I wanted to quit so many times. But I didn’t. Not only did I successfully complete the four weeks of NSI training, but I also received positive accolades from the Commanding Officer, Colonel, and Command Senior Chief. Our Congressman intervened on my behalf and we were given the opportunity to appeal the Navy’s decision. I fought for my scholarship. The Commanding Officer, based on his four-week observation of my performance, wrote me a letter of recommendation. He stated that I completed my training with courage and commitment to the Navy’s core values. He felt that I could succeed in both college and the NROTC program.

Once school started, I had to live in limbo daily. I was ordered to participate in all NROTC trainings and NROTC classes until a decision was made. This could have taken many months. As an Honors Student, I have a rigorous academic schedule. The unnecessary uncertainty created by this situation put me under a lot of unwarranted stress and anxiety. This mental burden and the strong possibility of being denied was excruciating and drained all energy from my body.

The final information that sealed my decision to withdraw was being told that even if my waiver is approved, my goal of being an Aerospace Engineer in the restricted line officer designator was almost “never” approved by the Navy. The potential of not being able to use my engineering degree and that skillset wasn’t acceptable or in my best interest. My health was more important and I concluded that my efforts should be devoted to attaining my Aerospace Engineering degrees and lending my gifts and talents to a more inclusive world. I walked away from the NROTC full scholarship. I now find myself scrambling to afford to attend this wonderful college.

Follow my journey on Facebook, my Facebook Fan Page, Tiktok, Youtube & 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.

Kerry Magro

Kerry Magro

Leave a Replay

Facebook Supporter Page

Become a supporter of ours and join our awesome online community. When you join you’ll receive Facebook lives, exclusive videos, resources and more.

About Me

I used to have severe nonverbal autism. Today I’m a full-time professional speaker & best-selling author and autism-film consultant.

Shop My Books

Like us on Facebook

KMF Making A Difference

I started a nonprofit to educate on neurodiversity and help give students with autism scholarships to go to college.

Recent Posts