This guest post is by Ashton Lighthall, a young woman on the autism spectrum. Ashton plans to attend Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan for one year. Then, she plans on serving an eighteen month mission for her church. After her church mission she plans on transferring to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. Ashton is applying for our Spring 2017 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.

My name is Ashton Lighthall and I have autism. I was three years old when I was diagnosed with autism. Since then, I’ve learned that I will never be “normal” like everyone else, but I am happy with who I am. This is my story.

When I was three years old, I was diagnosed with Autism. At the time, it was difficult for me to communicate with family and friends because I couldn’t express how I was feeling without getting frustrated. Before I started elementary school, I attended a private school for autistic children in Salt Lake City, Utah for Preschool and Kindergarten. It was challenging for me, but I learned how to communicate and express my emotions. I was unable to talk properly until I was about four and a half years old. My first clear words were, “I hate you Mommy!” because I was very angry and I didn’t want to go to bed at the time. Since then, I have slowly improved my communication and expression skills and learned basic life skills. Even though it was very hard and it required extra time, my parents and my family never gave up.

Two years later, my family and I moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan and I attended an elementary school that had a program for autistic children. In the first-grade I was in the program full time until I got to the point where I was ready to transition to a regular classroom. I have been successful in a regular classroom ever since. Throughout elementary school, I had a hard time making friends and getting along with the kids around me. I was picked on by kids my age at the time and was often discluded from friend groups. I was usually the last one to be picked for an activity because I acted differently and expressed myself differently than the other kids. Due to those circumstances, I ended up sitting alone at lunch. I would sometimes hide in the corner of the classroom, behind doors, or in the bathroom crying or yelling because I was angry and I didn’t want to go to school and be lonely. I even tried to escape the classroom once, because of that frustration. This situation and behavior continued into middle school. But overtime, I slowly matured, made some friends, and I now get along with almost everyone around me.

I didn’t understand what Autism really was and the fact that I have Autism until I was fourteen years old. I was working on an end of the year project for eighth grade about friendship and connecting it to Autism. I asked my parents a lot of questions about it and they explained to me all of the struggles that I had gone through when I was diagnosed with Autism. It was hard for me to accept that I am Autistic. I became very angry and started to see Autism in a negative way because I felt that it made me weak. I realized why people treated me differently, and I wanted to change that. I tried really hard to act and behave like I didn’t have autism because whenever I learned that one of my peers had Autism or Aspergers and I saw how people treat them, it made me feel ashamed of myself. I didn’t like how other people respond to someone with Autism.

It has been very difficult for me to accept the fact that I do have Autism and how blessed I really am. I try to focus on the things that I have been able to accomplish such as talking, expressing my feelings, driving, playing my flute, and playing on my school volleyball team.  Learning to drive has given me a sense of freedom and independence. Journaling has helped me to express my feelings and playing the flute has also given me an opportunity to express my emotions. Exercising and playing volleyball has helped me learn how to set and accomplish goals and being around my friends on the team has helped me be more enjoyable. Being part of Student Government at my school has given me the chance to lead and to make certain choices.

I have been blessed to live in an environment where people care about me. This past year I was able to understand better that my family, my leaders at school and church, and even God, really do care about me no matter what. Also, I was able to learn that I can accomplish so much and do anything if I work hard, even though it may not always be easy. There are still times where it’s hard for me to accept myself as an autistic person, but I always try to find things that I am grateful for, and having autism is something that makes me unique. I know that going to college as an autistic student is going to be challenging, but I also know that I can ask for help and guidance from others who can help me. I know that I will be a successful and a self-reliant college student.

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

Kerry Magro, an international motivational speaker and best-selling author 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 who travels around the country speaking about his journey on the autism spectrum at your next event by contacting him here.