This guest post is by Todd, a young man on the autism spectrum who has been accepted and is attending The George Washington University. Todd 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 the video below to see why this cause is important to me. 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 a child, I always knew that something was a bit ‘off’. I was that kid in school who knew all the capital cities and all football clubs and all types of mushrooms there were to know. My nickname was ‘Google’ or ‘Wikipedia’, and I was much happier sitting alone on the computer than playing games with everyone else. But, up until my teenage years, there was never much emphasis placed upon any diagnosis. My mother didn’t want me to worry about such things and to just let me know that I was loved and to give me as care-free of a childhood as possible. I did sometimes wonder about my idiosyncrasies, but I subconsciously chalked it up to cultural differences- living as American expats in a foreign country, as I did until I was 14. Once we moved back, and I learned more about what Asperger’s was, it was on my initiative that we scheduled an appointment with my psychiatrist and got the diagnosis.
The diagnosis was rather earth-shattering, not because it was a surprise to me (it wasn’t), but because so many habits of mine I had once never given any thought were suddenly brought into the spotlight. For fourteen years I had never thought to look people in the eye but now I was all of a sudden being forced to. When I rocked in place at the dinner table I was now being told to stop – especially since I was now getting older and counting down the years until I became an adult. My therapist was able to help me with those behaviors and think about them, and I gradually unlearned them, though it was difficult at first to establish this new ‘routine’ where I had to constantly remind myself not to do those things.
This was true for my internal predispositions, too- specifically one, my black-and-white thinking. The best way I can describe this is that for as long as I can remember, it’s been very difficult for me to shy away from absolutes in my thought. Say, I either had a ‘great’ day, a ‘terrible’ day, or a day that I had nothing to say about. I had never thought in terms of contradictions- I remember being really indecisive about everything because one minute I’d see all the pros of Option 1 and the cons of Option 2, so it was a clear ‘empirical’ choice, but then I’d see all the cons of Option 1 and the pros of Option 2 at once, and so it was a clear choice in the other direction. It was so hard for me to actually see the pros and cons of one option at once, and make a choice that was not ‘the objectively right’ one. It led to see-sawing back and forth with almost everything I did, and gave me tremendous anxiety. I had to learn to just do the best I could with the information I had, and to decide and not look back. It took a lot of work, but the freedom I experienced once my decision was past me- that it was all as it should be- that was just amazing, and I took that great feeling and tried to remind myself of it every time I had a tough decision coming up.
But my biggest challenge was not a direct symptom of Asperger’s, but rather a way I had tried to protect myself from it. I have always been interested in quite unusual things and would spend hours upon hours studying them (winter sports, remote islands, coins, whatnot), and when I realized I should pivot away from these things to ‘fit in’, it led to the point where I intentionally tried to minimize any distinctiveness about me. All through high school I passed as an ‘everyman’ where I intentionally avoided activities that gave me any sort of personality or set me apart from the crowd. As a result of this, I had a very ‘empty’ sense of self by the time I was to go to college. This lack of sense of self made the first two years very difficult.
Having no internal ‘buffer’, nothing to fall back on, made me dependent on things going well in the outside world to be happy. I had a very short temper where often the smallest set back, a letter getting lost in the mail, or an undercooked lunch, would make the world a catastrophe, as there was nothing I could see that would counterbalance it. I even checked into the hospital for suicidal tendencies once. We eventually realized this was unsustainable and checked me into therapy, where I still am today. I try to be grateful for everything that I am and have. I’m grateful that I have a comfortable bed and hot shower and great university which I love and the capacity to do anything I want at least academically. I have a 3.84 GPA and I’m so proud of that. But I’m also happy for myself because of my unique interests. I’m proud that I can feel so intensely about something, that I can have such motivation and drive, and then, when I met my boyfriend last month, that I could love someone so deeply too. It’s only on the up for me, and I’m so proud of all that I’ve achieved so far, and I hope to keep on with it!
Join us during World Autism Month by RSVPing here for our ‘A Night For Celebrating Our Autism Community Virtual Event’ on April 20th where we will be spotlighting several members of our autism community like our scholarship applicants!
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.