This guest post is by Lauren Quinn, a young woman on the autism spectrum. Lauren will be attending the University of Southern California. Lauren is applying for our Summer 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.

One day, when I was 12, I sat down to watch the movie Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close with my family. As I was watching, I noticed uncanny similarities between the main character, Oskar, and myself. The boy was closing his ears from sensory input, was misconceived for his unique character, and followed routine. Oskar was described as having Asperger’s Syndrome. I was curious and opened my computer. I searched what Asperger’s was on a website, suddenly emotions and memories were flowing through my head.

I remembered feeling invisible and lonely in the school cafeteria, drawing characters with pencils and pieces of paper I took from my desk while others were endlessly socializing. I remembered being misunderstood by both my teachers, who thought I was disrespectful when speaking matter-of-fact, and my peers, who didn’t like my rule-following demeanor. I remembered being unable to have a voice for myself or confidently carry a conversation. I was considered a freak because I would cry and never express my true feelings. I remembered my parents’ encouragement to join Girl Scouts, play sports, and attend birthday parties where I didn’t interact with anyone. I remembered my room being my safe haven from societal judgement, and feeling like the stuffed animals I accumulated were my only companions. I remembered I couldn’t bear to be in the school auditorium or be left alone to perform during school concerts; I remembered being taken out of class to meet with therapists to learn communication skills and eye contact; I remembered feeling different, but not knowing the word to describe my angst; I remembered it all.

As I was reading symptoms of Asperger’s, I became so overwhelmed that I rushed upstairs and began sobbing in my bed, with the computer screen lighting up the empty space. From that moment, I full heartedly knew I was autistic.

Moments later, my parents came into my room and asked what was wrong, and I told them the truth. Even though I knew it was the truth, I didn’t want them to confirm it. They did, and began telling me the full story. They talked about the three doctor consultations it took to get a diagnosis of High-Functioning Autism. They told me about their decision to move me from a special education school to a mainstream school so I could collaborate alongside fully developed classmates. They told me about how they stood up for me at every student-teacher conference and IEP meeting held for the consultation of my needs. They told me they wanted me to grow up like any other kid, even though that was never the case.

I was emotionally torn and was unsure how to cope with the news, but after additional research and hearing others’ stories, I decided my autism was a strength rather than a weakness. I became more optimistic, open-minded, and motivated to step completely out of my comfort zone. I wanted to prove that being autistic was nothing to be ashamed of.

Going to high school in a new city gave me a new slate, and I began exuding a newfound confidence and strength in character as I adapted to my new environment.

One significant experience during my high school career was attending Joey Travolta’s Short Film Camp in 2015 & 2016. The camp exposed me to professional filmmaking techniques around other individuals on the spectrum and around an incredible group of staff who understood my abilities. I was heavily involved in the camp’s productions, from pitching and screenwriting to slating scenes and acting. The camp inspired me to eliminate my status quo and further motivated me to initiate a greater sense of self.

I was starting conversations, gained a supportive group of friends, began advocating for myself in the school’s resource program as well as to my teachers, joined clubs, and went to school events.

I realized my progress being rewarded in the midst of my accomplishments. At the start of my junior year, I was released from my IEP and was no longer receiving accommodations. The idea was amazing, and the immense weight from the stress and sadness I endured was officially off my shoulders. I knew, in that moment, that my life would change completely. It was nerve wracking because I never lived without it and I wanted to make my parents proud. I wanted to make my childhood-self proud, and I did.

Committed to succeed, I accepted the task and began to ignite my passion for filmmaking. The creativity I once shared through drawings and writings then transcended into picking up a camera and filming my own video content. I created a YouTube channel, CarsonGeek, that enabled me to expand my imagination and intelligence of the industry through short films, video essays, and other uploaded content. My efforts gave me opportunities to grow as an artist and I decided to apply for my school’s student government class to prove I could do anything. In the class, I created a series of video documentaries that helped recognize individuals and groups on campus. It was liberating creating content that directly impacted other people and my dedication made me hopeful when applying to colleges. It pushed me to share my personal story like never before, and I submitted a documentary short about myself as part of my application to the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. My courageous risk led to an interview with a professor from the film school, and an offer of a lifetime.

I’m incredibly grateful for the experiences and people who have guided and supported me in becoming who I am today. As I begin a new journey attending a local community college and eventually USC, I’m excited to create more videos and develop a series that will recognize outstanding individuals with disabilities. Embracing my autism has brought me closer to my potential and I hope that, by sharing my story, I will inspire others to focus on their strengths and open up to new possibilities in what could be accomplished.

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

Kerry Magro, an international 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, one of the only professionally accredited speakers on the spectrum in the country, speak at your next event by contacting him here