This guest post is by Andrew Stulberg a young man on the autism spectrum who has been accepted into Oakland Community College. Andrew is applying for the Spring 2020 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 and how to apply for my scholarship here. I’m trying to make this nonprofit self-sufficient so I can make this my full-time job supporting the special needs community and would appreciate you taking a minute before reading on to watch this video below and subscribing to our Youtube page here to get to learn more about the work we do in the community.
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 here.
As someone who is on the autism spectrum (in my case, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome), it wouldn’t come as a surprise that throughout my life, I’ve had my fair share of moments of alienation from the rest of the social world.
Ever since I started school, I knew there was a part of me that felt different from the rest of my peers. Although I had some friends, I didn’t have nearly as many as most other people and sometimes I couldn’t maintain those friendships for very long.
Although I was given the help I needed with paraprofessionals and many extracurricular activities outside of school to help me build friendships, they didn’t really benefit enough in the long run and ironically made me feel even more different as I was put into an environment that only kids on the spectrum would belong in.
And although I had my fair share of strengths, such as my academic performance and artistic potential, I wouldn’t look at those positive aspects of myself very fondly and would often instead focus on my cons. With all of these things about my life that I would look down upon, my overall view of life was rather negative for a while, especially during middle school where not only did I continue to feel alienated, but I also developed a habit of believing that nobody wanted to be around me as well as claimed that everyone hated me since nobody would offer to be friends with me. Not only did I feel different my whole life, but it was also clear that I wasn’t even trying to improve myself.
When I entered high school however, that is when my perspective finally started to change, with a little bit of help at least. At my high school, where I spent my last 4 years of my education attending, there’s an elective course called LIFT. It is a class where students on the spectrum can take in order to build friendships with the help of typically neurotypical “peers”, with the hope of creating lifelong relationships between students who take the course. While a class like this doesn’t seem too different from activities outside of school I took to help me with my social difficulties, this is the first time where a class like this was offered at a school I was currently attending and could take every day I was at school.
While I was given one of my biggest chances yet to finally make some progress getting out my shell, things weren’t going so positive at first. I remember attending my first LIFT class on my first day of high school and immediately when I walked in, I didn’t want to be there. The students who I can tell were on the spectrum, or “mentees” as we call them didn’t initially interact with me nor looked very approachable and all of the mentors were juniors and seniors, with no mentors who were of my freshmen grade.
The first several weeks didn’t go much better as I viewed the class with a negative outlook as it still made me feel different to the point where I wanted to quit taking the class. It wasn’t until I met a certain mentor in the class that things started to turn around. When she was assigned as my new mentor after my negative behavior admittedly made my old mentor feel uncomfortable around me (yeah, my demeanor was that bad), we immediately grew a strong friendship.
She had an infectious and charming personality and she cared enough about me that my behavior didn’t budge her as easily as my last mentor. Over the next several months as our friendship grew, my outlook on the class started to change. In LIFT, I learned about the importance of self-love and approachable body language and the reason that nobody really approached me very much came clear to me. It wasn’t that everyone hated me (which is silly as how could they hate me if they haven’t been around me at all ), but that my negative attitude and poor body language made me undesirable to be around.
I also got to spend more time with some of the mentees of the class, the ones who were on the spectrum and found that not only were many of them more approachable than I would assume at first glance, but some of them didn’t even behave like they were on the spectrum at all. All while this was going on, my friendship with my mentor grew until at the time, I would consider her to be my closest friend and biggest supporter. My whole outlook on life and demeanor gradually improved over the rest of my freshman year and sophomore year until junior year, where my overall self-esteem was at its peak. I made even more friends in LIFT as it was the first time where there were people my grade in the program and even gained the necessary skills to make a few friends outside of LIFT.
Overall, I have to give a ton of credit to the LIFT program upon changing my whole view of life living on the spectrum. While I have certainly come a long way over the years, it was LIFT that allowed me to get out of my shell and gradually become the person I had the most potential to become. I also have to give some of that same credit to my mentor and the teacher of the class, for being by my side along the way. While I still have many things to work on regarding my behavior, such as occasional outbursts of frustration, I don’t think my whole view on life would be anywhere near as positive as it is now if it wasn’t for the LIFT program and the opportunity I was given to be a part of it.
Join us for our Free Workshop “The Transition To Adulthood For Those With Autism” on 4/30 at 8PM where I’ll be talking about topics such as our autism scholarship program – Register at: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_vofL2kFjRBCSHGJ5JcfyVA
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.