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This guest post is by Amanda Brianne Harris, a young woman on the autism spectrum who was accepted into Chapman University. Amanda 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.

I grew up on the autism spectrum without knowing I was on the spectrum until I was 17. With 6 months left of my childhood, I was diagnosed. I am a masker. I was an actor when I was little, and I am still acting now. Yet, now, I am aware of the charade, aware of how the world perceives me, and how it wants to perceive me. At my worst, I was and am polite, with eye contact, strategic smiles and words, and endless small talk. At my best, I set politeness on fire. At my best, I dismiss eye contact and small talk, but you’ll see my eyes glittered in green when I ask you what the meaning of life is. At my best, I’ll lose track of the conversation when I’m busy finding the Grand Canyon in a pebble. At my best, I take longer to answer because I know the power of words, the magic of them, whether good or bad. Although I didn’t always know about my autism, I knew I was different by the way I was influenced by art, by literature and painting. Words and art have tremendously formed me into the human I am today.

The human I am today is quite different from the human I was yesterday. The world is constantly turning on its axis, constantly changing, so I personally believe there is no set identity for each individual. The brilliant thing about deliberately lacking an identity is that there is no self; instead, a collective identity is the result, which is all of humanity. The best way for me to tell my story is to intertwine others as well, how others have changed me, how we are constantly changing, in sync with the world. Returning to the influence of words and art, I can only tell the story of my greatest accomplishment through the stories of others. Yet, reading between the lines, it is quite important to see the metaphorical allusions between a small part of the greater whole, in this case, the world.

Think before you speak, truly think of the consequences, don’t dismiss even the smallest impact which can stem from words spoken. Think before you act, truly think of the consequences, don’t dismiss even the smallest impact which can stem from actions made. Bullying, discrimination, and physical or emotional abuse are only examples of this hatred to a smaller degree. Humans in captivation endured unimaginable terrors which I cannot bring myself to even type on a screen. What I will gladly explain, is how these humans fought the horrific hate with a power far greater.

Chapman University hosts an annual Holocaust Art and Writing Contest, open to middle and high schools nationwide. My junior year of high school in 2019, I put over a hundred hours of work into painting the story of a Holocaust survivor named Ludmila Page. I was awarded first place, and my painting was held in the LA Museum of the Holocaust for a year. I was also granted the amazing chance to go on a study trip to visit museums and meet Holocaust survivors who shared their testimonies. Previously, I had known shallow definitions of love, but I learned how infinite kinds of love can be discovered within the human experience. Intrigued beyond compare, I was astounded how love can empower people to condemn hate into nothing, how these survivors endured such evil by holding onto the simplest of human goodness. Even in the depths of tragedy and loss, humanity has the extraordinary ability to find strength in connection. At the ceremony, I delivered my artist statement, in which I’d like to share the last few sentences:

“People have the choice to believe we are physically different or biologically connected; the choice to destroy or save. I found Ludmila’s stories and her kindness breathtaking and starkly different from the hatred she received. Sometimes one must focus on the smaller picture—power does not always contain the greatest strength.”

This is all so significant to me because I am constantly looking for answers in life. I struggle, I want to know what makes life worth living, worth surviving. In the process of creating art, I deciphered one of life’s most profound yet simple truths—kindness. Kind acts, no matter how small, are what keeps the world turning. Rooted in the idea of The Creation of Adam by Michealangelo, I knew that was my painting. It takes one touch, one act of kindness, for life to bloom. I try to keep these past experiences in everything I do. I try to keep love in everything I do. To me, autism is perceiving the world in different lenses, and I believe I see love in more colors than most.

So when whispers build into tsunamis, whispers of how I’m different, the wind trapping my ears leaving me black and bruised, I’ll grieve for every soul who would have been hurt by that comment. I’ve learned that I pick whose opinion matters. Fundamentally, a misunderstanding is a lack of understanding. So I’ll grieve for every soul, every soul who waits to visit the grand canyon, when I can find that extraordinary view in a pebble; I’ll find it in people’s eyes, in the words that they speak, the words they don’t speak. I’ll grieve for every soul who can’t get swallowed by the blueness of the sky, so they try to fill the gaps with hatred and whisper two feet from me. I’ll grieve for every soul who chooses hate over love. I’ll radiate yellow until everyone chooses love.

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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.