This guest post is by Mitchell Aiken, a young man on the autism spectrum who has been accepted to University of Minnesota, University of Iowa and Iowa State University. Mitchell is applying for the Spring 2019 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 to our scholarship fund 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!).

I have always felt that my autism, while creating a unique personality and fascination for learning was also a hurdle in my ability to socially interact with other people. The biggest hurdles as a result of autism are personal space issues (a particular problem in the younger generations), reduced ability to “read” other people’s emotions, and difficulty in willingness to interact with new people out of fear. Difficulty of recognizing personal space is a common symptom of Asperger’s one that I used to have myself as a little boy. I would often pat people’s heads without recognizing that this wasn’t a thing that normal people do simply because I liked the feeling of hair. I also thought, “If I can do this with dogs, I can do this with people.” In my experiences, I’ve also had a very difficult time trying to understand people’s emotions which is a subject I still struggle with today. This is a common issue among the autistic population. Even with people who have difficulty outside of Asperger’s, understanding others is a frequent problem. We want to meet other people and communicate with them. I tried to make friends for a long time and it didn’t work. However, with some practice and time, I was able to make friends and eventually normalize myself into society.

To work with my Aspergers – because it is not something you cure – I’ve had lots of support. I have had extensive correction and counseling done by my parents to assist in me recognizing and addressing behaviors. They pushed me outside of my comfort zone me physically and mentally which is something that I eventually learned how to do myself. I established a community of friends and family that see this as an attribute rather than a burden. I participate in many extra-curricular and other activities to say involved and build a foundation for interacting with others.

I had an individualized education program that I helped contribute to at school. Through all of this, I’ve realized life is about struggle, and how to overcome it and being normal is overrated. I have gone against the flow all my life behaving different than the others, having different speech patterns and thought cycles, learning some things extremely fast while struggling at others, and knowing thousands of other things that not even most adults know. My challenge with autism has made me both strange and novel in social situations. But at the end of the day, normality is subjective and many of these people who I think are normal compared to me are probably just as different as I am. Because many of them are as quiet about their personal lives, it’s not always easy to see. Although this has been a challenge in my life, it has given me a radically different analytical perspective from others and allowed me to learn and assimilate information that others “just know” and tie it together. It has also taught me to stand in the face of adversity and learn to overcome some of these challenges so that I can work with peers and be successful.

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. If you have a referral for someone who many want him to speak please reach out as well! Kerry speaks with schools, businesses, government agencies, colleges, nonprofit organizations, parent groups and other special events on topics ranging from employment, how to succeed in college with a learning disability, internal communication, living with autism, bullying prevention, social media best practices, innovation, presentation best practices and much more!

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