This guest post is by Kristen Vollmar, a young woman on the autism spectrum. Kristen will be attending Lynn University in the Fall of 2017 and plans to pursue a degree in Hospitality. Kristen is applying for our Spring 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.
I am Kristen Vollmar. Though, online I’m usually called Milo, since that’s a lot more comfortable for me. Can’t be helped, right? I attended a Catholic elementary school for eleven long years. My only sibling is a twin sister. I like swimming, reading, and Animé, and am pretty good at Animé art.
Now that that’s over with, I have autism. More specifically Asperger’s Syndrome, but I dislike the name because it brings the Kanners’s discourse out, and anyway I’m sure everyone has agreed it’s out of date and now the condition is just autism. I don’t even like “low-functioning” or “high-functioning” as a title either. It’s ridiculous and is just a way to measure how well we are at pretending we are not autistic. And we jump through many hoops for allistic people, believe it or not.
We have to literally force schools to give us equal footing under the threat that it’s the law, rather than teachers just hearing you say “Hey, I really can’t concentrate right now. Can I do x please?” and being reasonable adults actually invested in our education. We force ourselves to look people dead in the eyes even if it’s impossible for some of us, and if we do comply we get disciplined for “staring.” Autistic people must change their reactions, their behaviors, their way of speaking, their way of thinking, and sometimes even their way of life just so they can coast through reality without constant punishment just for existing. That seems to me like a way bigger accommodation than just letting us stim or go nonverbal if we don’t feel like talking. I’m even trying to accommodate myself going nonverbal by learning American sign language, which is difficult because my autism makes it near impossible to learn new languages in general.
The strangest part is, a lot of the time people like to pretend there’s nothing different about us. Especially figures of authority, but peers as well. Just last year I failed an algebra course and had to retake it over the summer. When I retook it, I didn’t even get an 80; I’ll remember that 78.2 for a long time. The teacher’s decision afterwards? “She’s a straight-A student, she just doesn’t apply herself! We’re putting her in the College Algebra Trigonometry course!”
I failed. Hard. When I had already begged to be put in the course Advanced Mathematics I’d do well in and was ignored, I failed the harder class and my parents had to pay $100 to put me in the course I originally had asked for in the first semester. I’m doing a lot better this semester.
I really need for someone to listen to my side. I know myself better than anyone else ever will, and yet many feel the need to speak over me–to speak for me. I get just as irritated when I hear the “I know you’re in there” talk as well. I’m right in front of you, you haven’t lost anyone. I’m not locked away in some princess’s tower, this is me. Throughout life I’ve been dealing with enough identity questioning. I don’t need this added to my plate.
I’m doing well for myself, considering all this. I have a tangible goal in mind. I’m satisfied with my progress academically and mentally. And I have a support system through the Support for Student Growth Center I attend once a week that I can count on. Through their adolescent group weekly meetings we address different aspects of Asperger’s such as how to perceive and take a compliment, how to socialize at school when there’s a group assignment, how to understand social cues, how to handle life changes, to name just a few. Despite the social anxiety, awkwardness, and introversion that comes with autism I’m determined to get into the hospitality business and run a bed and breakfast one day.
It might sound impossible for someone like me to work in an industry that practically requires a state of chipper attitude and patient customer service, but that’s what makes it sound so fun for me. Not only am I going to make a place where any person can feel welcomed and at home, but it will be good practice for me, too. I can’t even imagine the rate at which I’ll improve socially. Not everyone can say their dream job is a perfect match in so many aspects.
My future might still be out of reach from where I am right now, but I’m confident that I’ll get there. As the years go by, I don’t doubt the world will continue to progress, and my dream will become even more accessible to me. My goal has four years give or take, and that’s plenty of time.
Kerry Magro, an international motivational 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 who travels around the country speaking about his journey on the autism spectrum at your next event by contacting him here.