This guest post is by Ryan Arnold, a young man on the autism spectrum who was accepted into Arizona State University. Ryan is applying for the Spring 2018 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 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!).

When I was a toddler, my parents first thought there was something different about me. They did not understand why I was nonverbal and why it seemed like I was not a good listener. I had good problem-solving skills, but I was not a good communicator.

On September 1, 1998, at age 3, my parents took me to the Children’s Hospital in Denver to understand why I did not communicate well. Their diagnosis was that I have autism.

In spite of having autism, my parents kept loving me unconditionally and have done a lot to help me overcome some of my challenges associated with my autism. For instance, my parents took me to speech therapy to help me learn how to be a better communicator. I struggled with phonics, so my speech therapist would help me learn good speech through the consonants of “-th”. My paternal grandma was involved with my therapy because she had earned her PhD in special education at Arizona State University in 1988, and wanted to pass her expertise onto me. Not only was she involved with my therapy, she also went to my Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings after my family moved from Westminster, Colorado to Phoenix, Arizona in June of 2002.

In elementary school, my grandma would advocate for me at my IEP meetings because she wanted what was the best for me. Not only did she do so much to help me overcome some of my challenges associated with having autism, I also got to spend a lot of time with her in my childhood life during my spare time.

For example, I would sometimes split the eggplant parmesan with her at an Italian restaurant called Carrabba’s. She was very health-conscious, and set a great example for me regarding healthy eating. I would also go to my grandparents’ condo in Prescott and stay overnight there. In addition to the time I spent with my grandma as a child, I have done many other activities that I really enjoy doing.

Specifically, I love to walk, read, go to the gym, kayak, decorate cakes, and eat out at restaurants. Cake decorating has been my favorite hobby for a long time. I took my first cake decorating class when I was 11 years old with one of my former habilitation and respite providers, Alexi. She worked with me for three-and-a-half years and took me to a lot of different places to help me learn my social skills.

In addition to the hard work Alexi did to help me overcome some of my challenges associated with having autism, I have accomplished a lot of things in life on my own. For example, when I was a junior at Desert Vista High School in Ahwatukee, Arizona, I received an award for being outstanding as well as an exceptional student. This is because I was the hardest worker in my earth science class. My grandma went to see me receive my award for being an outstanding exceptional student because she felt like she was a part of my success in helping me get through school by advocating for me at my IEP meetings. In addition to an award I received my junior year of high school, the biggest award I have received while attending school at Chandler-Gilbert Community College was my business certificate.

When I was taking a business communication class, my business communication professor, Mrs. Nuneviller, suggested to everyone in my class to apply for the business certificate. I took her word on it not only because she was just trying to help me, I also wanted to take advantage of a wonderful opportunity I had while taking my business classes at Chandler-Gilbert. After finishing up my business communication class that semester, I completed all the business classes I needed that following semester to obtain my business certificate. Because of my good grades and hard work I put into the business classes at Chandler-Gilbert, I was awarded the business certificate on December 16, 2016. Not only was I awarded the business certificate, I also graduated from community college with an associate in business degree on May 12, 2017.

When I graduated from community college, I graduated with high distinction and honors. The art history course I took as an honors class helped me to graduate from community college with honors. In addition to the honors class I took at Chandler-Gilbert, I got ahead of the game on my college credits by taking some dual enrollment classes through Rio Salado College when I was in high school. This helped me to graduate from Chandler-Gilbert with high distinction because I received high grades in my dual enrollment classes from Desert Vista. Furthermore, I obtained good grades through all of the classes I took at Chandler-Gilbert. Now I have completed my first year of college at Arizona State University with outstanding grades, and will continue to take some more classes at ASU in order to accomplish my goal of earning my bachelor of science degree in accountancy on top of a sustainability minor.

-Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.- (2)

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.

We’d also appreciate if you could start a Facebook Fundraiser to support our nonprofit’s scholarship fund! You can learn more about how you can do just that here