This guest post is by Jason Dine, a young man on the autism spectrum who has been accepted too and will be attending the Columbus State University. Jason 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 am an 18-year-old high school senior who was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder when I was three years old.  I grew up as a military brat because my father is a soldier. For me, this meant moving – A LOT! I have lived all over the world, including the United States (Michigan, California, New Mexico, and currently Georgia), Germany, and Japan. I attended seven different schools. If you are familiar with ASD, you probably think this was impossible for a kid on the spectrum.  You’ve probably heard that people on the spectrum are resistant to change. You may have heard people on the spectrum have a hard time being flexible and do best when they can have a specific routine. These stereotypes make up what I call the “Autism Box” – social quirkiness, resistance to even minor changes in routine, avoiding eye contact, restricted interests, and self-stimming behaviors. Even though I faced many of these challenges myself, I am proof that you should not let people put you in the “Autism Box”.

I know I’m lucky to have had enlightening experiences by traveling the world, and I know that all military brats understand the difficulties of having to move to a new school, leave old friends behind, and make new friends. But for a kid with Autism, moving to new schools had unique challenges. I have a hand flapping habit when I get anxious or deep in thought. It’s not something I think about consciously, so it’s not easy to ‘just stop flapping’.  Being the new kid makes me feel anxious, and flapping makes me stick out, so I have been bullied by some people when I arrive at a new school. This isn’t exactly the best first impression. Most kids don’t want to approach me, but I know that they just need to get to know me. At each school, I need to establish myself and gain a solid reputation to shield myself from intolerance. My solid reputation allows me to not just survive at school, but thrive, because a lot of people respect me for my uniqueness when they get to know me. Having attended seven different schools, I had many opportunities to establish myself. I have been able to learn what works socially, and what doesn’t. For example, I learned in order to gain acceptance from your peers you need to categorize people into different cliques. You should befriend at least one person in each clique. Then, hang out with that clique for a while until they know and respect you. Do this with each group until the whole community likes you and you have a solid reputation.

Moving to a new house, new school, new town, and even a new country definitely has its challenges.  If I’m being completely honest, moving stinks. But in hindsight, I know that each community I’ve lived in has helped me to climb out of the box.  Moving frequently and having to endure many situations out of my control forced me to be flexible and to be able to change. Each move, I remembered that I had successfully done this before.  I’ll even say that now I enjoy new experiences and I can see the benefit of seeking them out. For example, in Japan, I took a computer graphics class in high school. Because of my knowledge and interest in computers, I already knew the majority of the material and I finished assignments quickly. I had a lot of down time, which I wanted to use productively. I suggested to the teacher that I could just teach the class and he could go home, but he didn’t go for that idea. Instead, I created a job for myself, which I called the Reprocessing Engineer. Whenever I was done with my work, I collected all the recyclables from classrooms in five different buildings across campus. The principal was so impressed, I actually continued to do that job even after the semester ended and I was no longer in that class.

I have embraced my quirkiness by creating a solid reputation for myself and using my uniqueness to become a popular and respected individual. I have learned to give the right amount of eye contact. I’ve embraced cultural opportunities and have developed many different interests and passions over the years. I have many interests and hobbies, such as seals, Minecraft, history, alternate history, and Anarcho-Capitalism.

My experience as a military brat has actually helped me learn not to let people put me in the “Autism Box”.  I’ve enjoyed being able to leverage my uniqueness to become successful socially. I have also been successful in other areas as well. I was accepted into Columbus State University and plan to pursue a career in cyber security!

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.