This guest post is by Jacob Boenzi, a young man on the autism spectrum who has been accepted too and will be attending the Mesa Community College where he hopes to study Political Science, Law & Journalism. Jacob 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!).

Does it ever astonish you that in a world with a population of a little over 7.5 billion people, that every single person has something that makes them unique and different from everyone else? These differences can be noticeable, like a difference in appearance, voice, or hobbies of interest, while others are subtle, like DNA differences. Regardless of our differences, if there’s one thing each of us have in common, it’s that we all have a story to tell. This story is about our life’s journey from the moment of our first heartbeat to the present day. Some people’s stories are typical with little drama while others are a story of triumph in the face of adversity. My story falls in line closer to the latter.

I was born on August 20th, 1999 to two teenage parents. My mother postponed her college plans to focus on raising me. My father went to airplane mechanic school and worked hard to take care of me and my 3 younger sibling who followed quickly after. During my early years, I had the ability to be razor-focused on my interests and remember certain things very well. For example, I would spend hours organizing my toys in a specific way. By the age of 15 months, I had already memorized my ABCs and by 2 years old I could recite lines from television shows. However, I rarely engaged in conversations and this made it difficult to communicate my needs to those that I wanted help from. I spent my time playing alone rather than with others and was only interested in eating a handful of foods. Anytime I was off my daily schedule, I wouldn’t react well. After meeting with doctor after doctor, at the age of 4, I was officially diagnosed with Autism. My mother knew for a while that I had Autism, but she and many doctors didn’t have the resources and information about the disorder that people do today. From the moment of the official diagnosis, my family knew that I was going to have a different journey than what was expected.

For the next several years, my education took place in self-contained classroom for autistic children. These classrooms were a perfect environment for me: they were quiet, small, and had multiple teachers to ask for help. But most importantly, they taught me that I can succeed in-spite of my differences and that learning new information can be a fun. A motto that the teachers would want all the students to pledge to was, “I will always be the best me I can be,” and this motto has and will continue to help for any problem that comes my way. As I grew older, I was put into general education classrooms for a few years and this proved to not be a good fit for me. I was frequently the target of bullies and there weren’t always people there to attend to my needs and accommodate to my disability. Next, I did online school, and this ended up being just what I needed. The environment was quiet, I could work at my own pace, and could make my own schedule. I finished my time at high school with a 3.9 GPA and numerous teachers praised me for my excellent work ethic and determination to never give up. Outside of school, I worked with speech, occupational, and music therapists to improve my communication skills and speech fluency. Today, I can engage in conversations with anyone and can do so fluently most of them time.

It is easy to sit down behind a laptop and point to all the problems I have faced with Autism. There are many struggles I still face every day, but I don’t think it’s completely fair to call it only a disability. There have many instances where my Autism has proven to be useful in solving problems. For example, if there’s a problem that’s irritating me or that I need to solve, I’m very good at staying super focused on it until I finally solve it. My memory helps remind myself and others about important activities to do that many would easily forget. I am consistent with staying on pace and meeting deadlines. I think I’m better able to relate to others who go through having autism, as well people who go through challenges in general. I’m there to help others, give advice, and tell them that they should be proud of their work and that I respect them. Because of these strengths, I see my Autism as a gift that has helped overcome more challenges than it has hindered me.

Understanding Autism and how it affects a person is critical in helping a child who has it. My advice to parents with an autistic child is that it’s important to let the kid explore his or her passions. Don’t spend your time and energy trying to make them “normal” and instead encourage them to following their dreams. Allowing them to pursue their interests will make them happy and they will find success. To those with Autism—child and adult—who are reading this, always be yourself. Never be afraid to ask for help. It’s normal to face problems and they’re not always your fault. Continue to work hard and strive to be a better person every day. If you find your strengths, what many call a disorder or disability can be your greatest gift.

Follow Kerry’s journey on Facebook, his Facebook Fan Page, & Instagram!

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.