This guest post is by Nicholas Cutchins, a young man on the autism spectrum who was accepted into University of Virginia. Nicholas 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.
When I was three years old, I was stumbling my way through life in typical toddler fashion, with one major caveat: I was just diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and not long before, I was nonverbal. It was a struggle, but over time I began to find a way to manage all the obstacles. Now, as an 18-year-old young man, a future college student, and an Eagle Scout, I have overcome all of my hardships, one step at a time, with some help along the way.
When I was a mere toddler, when most kids worried about was eating, sleeping, and watching Elmo, I already had hardships on my plate. At age two, most children would be able to form complete sentences. However, I still wasn’t talking, despite the fact that I could make sounds. This lack of communication inevitably led to constant frustration when my parents couldn’t understand what I wanted. My parents, who were rightfully worried, scheduled visits with an Early Childhood Special Education Consultant. Since I loved to watch TV, she suggested that I watch a series of “Signing Time” videos to learn modified sign language. My family would watch signing videos everyday with me, but it only seemed to click with my sister and me.
There was a small, brown, stuffed bear on the top shelf of my parent’s closet that was given to me when I was born. One day, I had wanted that bear, and led my entire family into that closet. I stood under the bear, and crossed my arms over my chest, signing that I had wanted the bear. My sister recognized this was signing, and exclaimed to all of us, “He’s signing ‘bear’!” My parents were shocked, since that was the first time that I had truly communicated with another human being. The therapy worked! From that point on, communication became easier, and at the age of two and a half, I finally said my first words. That bear became a physical representation of my triumph over communication.
After conquering my lack of speech, it was time for the next challenge: conquering my own standards. After learning how to speak, it didn’t take long before I was able to read at the age of four. My preschool teachers and my parents were shocked that I was reading to the other kids and reading signs around the school. Soon, I was reading and writing at high levels and learning math, history, and science with ease. However, this ability to soak information was a double-edged sword. It led to increasing levels of perfectionism, and whenever I had a minor screwup, my world would end. If I missed several questions on a math test because I put a plus instead of a minus, I would beat myself up over it. Thankfully, I was able to mitigate this problem on my own. After elementary school, I was placed in Algebra I as a sixth grader. Despite this high placement, I would get low grades on quizzes and tests, and I was okay with it, since it was a high-level class, and I still got an A for the course.
After that challenge solved itself, there was only one real challenge left on my plate, but it was the one that was the hardest to beat. Anxiety has been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t quite have a word for it. All my parents knew was that I was a perfectionist, and that was the word they used for describing my issue. Little did I know that my perfectionism was caused by my anxiety, which was only made worse during middle and high school. While I had many visits with in-school student aides and counselors throughout elementary school and middle school, out-of-school therapy wasn’t heavily stressed. After a significant meltdown, I decided enough was enough, and asked for professional help.
My parents sought a therapist to help me with my coping skills. This therapist was able to describe my feelings and why I felt them, something that no one else was able to say before, not even myself. I was put on medication, but both my therapist and I knew that meds alone wouldn’t prevent the meltdowns I was having. My therapist engrained several coping strategies deep into my mind, from taking deep breaths to leaving the situation that is causing the stress. Since learning the strategies, many meltdowns have been prevented, and my life has been significantly improved. Fewer things tend to frustrate me to the point of a meltdown.
With all of my solutions to all the challenges put in place, I was able to not only succeed in life but also find ways to beat my inner demons. Recently, I have been able to achieve my goals that I have been working towards for years. I was recently accepted to my dream university, allowing me to pursue my ambitions as a mathematician. I have also earned the rank of Eagle Scout, one of my ultimate achievements as a young man, a rank that my father, who was also a Boy Scout, did not earn himself. However, while both of those goals are tremendously important to me, overcoming my own mental state is my pinnacle accomplishment.
Before therapy, I was in a terrible place mentally, and getting treatment saved my life. I hated myself for all the problems I caused, and I wanted it to end, but I didn’t know a positive way to do it. But after getting treatment and learning ways to fight my anxiety, my life has been getting better and better. While having autism is definitely a struggle for me, I am still grateful for it, since it taught me how to deal with hardship and achieve my goals.
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.