This guest post is by Noah Graham, a young man on the autism spectrum who was accepted into University of Iowa where he is pursuing a degree in Mathematics & Secondary Education. Noah applied for the Spring 2018 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 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!).

As a kid growing up, I had an amazing mother with a good job and a steady income, and I lived in a large house in Colorado for much of my childhood. Sounds fantastic, right? Well, looking back, it really was. However, the rest of my life was full of uncertainties. When I was two years old, my sister was diagnosed with cancer. I didn’t realize the magnitude of this event until much later in my life. As such, I have grown to respect her much more than I used to. When I was 8, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. My experience with autism has been pleasant at times and difficult at others.

Autism made my life challenging the moment I started school.

My social skills in early elementary school were terrible. I had few friends, and I was never very social. Around this time I started playing Pokemon. This game… It just changed my life forever. Pokemon gave me a bunch of friends when I didn’t really have any. It gave me goals to accomplish that I had to work for. It helped me learn that if you want something, you have to go get it, and not to expect that it will just come to you.

In middle school, I discovered online games. When I began playing online multiplayer games regularly, I started playing with a clan named CTS. An online gaming clan is sort of like a club. We would get together and host streams, play various games, and sometimes just talk about life. I played a lot of League of Legends around this time, and I still do. League has a code of conduct, if you will. The game taught me how to be fair, and, above all else, taught me how to be humble in victory and kind in defeat. I made more friends in one year than in my entire life when I started playing League.

I believe that a vast majority of autistic teenagers turn to gaming as a coping strategy. The number of people with autism I have met online lies somewhere in the low hundreds. It has been an amazing experience talking with others like me who also turned to gaming.

I think it is most likely noticeable in the way I write this, that I also have a lot of trouble keeping on one thought for very long, so I often skip around on topics. My teachers nowadays are more open to my opinions.

Something that really changed my outlook on school was my middle school math teacher. I refused to do the homework the way she wanted, and showed her my way. She was the first teacher to look at my differing opinion and accept it. I always got the right answer, and she knew I didn’t cheat, so she allowed me to do my work in my head for the most part on homework. Thanks to her, I really enjoy school now. I learned how to get my way diplomatically. I have never enjoyed doing things the way people have always done them. I am all about finding new and better ways of doing things.

Today I have a job and even got promoted already. I have my own car and will be heading off to college soon. In my younger days, no one thought any of that was possible. My mom always believed in me and knew great things were possible. My autism isn’t who I am but it has shaped me into who I want to be.

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.

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