This guest post is by Grace Hamada, a young woman on the autism spectrum. Grace has been accepted into the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California in the fall as an Engineering Physics major in the College of Engineering and Computer Science. Grace 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.

If anyone asked anything about who I was I would probably say this: My name is Grace Hamada and I play the viola, I do track and field and cross country, and I’m half Chinese and half Japanese. I would not tell them that I was autistic and diagnosed with PDD-NOS. The reason for this is because I wanted to wait for the perfect moment to tell someone and I did exactly this – waited –  for a very long time. This is my story of being on the autistic spectrum and this story starts even before I knew I was autistic.

This all started when I was in kindergarten and the year was 2004. During that whole year I didn’t socialize with other kids like the other kids did. Academically, I was fine. My parents decided to hold me back by a year because they thought doing that would make my social life better. The next year nothing changed and they decided to let me move on.

Years go by and my social life stayed the same where I didn’t talk to other students. Finally, in third grade I was diagnosed with autism. It was PDD-NOS to be exact. What happened was that I was tested for autism through a series of tests. One of the tests that I remember was one where I had to identify things on a screen. After that, even though I didn’t realize it back then, things changed. I started to go to therapy for my speech and motor skills. I was also in group therapy for speech, I was first put with this kid and we worked well together. His parents had to stop the therapy though so I was paired up with another boy, who’s name I’m going to change to protect who he is, Oliver. He and I became friends because of this and we went out to movies once or twice together even after the group therapy ended. We still text each other once in awhile to this day. These interactions made me realize that yes; I can talk to people my age. I trusted Oliver and he didn’t let me down.

I also did this summer camp every summer until I was 15 that was supported by the place where I took therapy. It was during my time there where I realized that I had kept my autism a secret for a total of seven years since I was first diagnosed. At the camp fire during the last time I would ever be at the camp we did an activity where we would write our wishes on a piece of paper and throw them in a fire in the hopes that they would come true. I wrote, “To tell someone before I’m 18 that I’m autistic.” I threw it in the fire and hoped that that day would happen and that’s when I really contemplated on telling someone about it that wasn’t an adult. I wanted to confide in someone outside of therapy, too.

Every time I would think of telling though my hope that people would understand kept getting crushed like a termite. I started to hear things about autism and they were all negative. One of the examples was during cross country. What happened was that I was running and these two kids on the team started to talk about autism and it was mostly negative stereotypes. That burned and I decided that I had to be careful as to who I trusted. Years go by and my senior year came along. Then, my faith in people got crushed again. I was in orchestra and some kid called really easy music “autistic music”. That burned because I am good at viola and I’m autistic so what that kid said was that all autistics are stupid.

Finally, after waiting so long to tell someone that moment happened. I was in Sociology class second semester of this year and we were talking about stereotypes. We were all supposed to say something like this: I am a senior but I’m not mean, and that’s the one I used. After a friend of mine said theirs, which was something, they themselves were reluctant to admit. I decided that it would be a good time to tell them that I was autistic although I still questioned how safe it was to tell people. Also another girl wanted to hear what I had to say and I decided to tell her as well. I told them that I was autistic and neither of them seemed to mind.

I was on cloud nine that day. The reason why was because after that my friend and I treated each other the same way as we did before despite the fact that now they knew that I was autistic. As for the other girl that I told she and I still treat each other the same way as well which is what makes this story even better.

Throughout the years I hid my autism wondering if there would be a day when I could finally tell someone. That day showed me one thing and it’s this: Don’t think all people will not understanding autism because one day a person who does understand it will come and when that happens, you’ll know that you are just as important and special as everyone else.

-Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.- (2)

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