This guest post is by Emily Schake, a young woman on the autism spectrum who has been accepted and will be attending Liberty University majoring in Graphic Design. Emily 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!).
How can I begin to describe my own experience of autism, when I wasn’t even fully aware of what was going on in my thinking process? These are the type of questions I tried to unlock in my brain when my mother told me I wasn’t like other kids in school.
I thought I was like any other kid who could talk in endless conversations with the popular girl crowd and express myself in any way I can for others to get to know me. Then the truth set in my early years of elementary school in 3rd grade when I was switched from a normal English class to a special education class. From that educational change, my life hadn’t been the same since, and that change was for the better.
I grew up in a small town in New York called Highland Falls, which wasn’t too far from West Point, New York City, and the Hudson River. I was born and raised there for 12 years, and grew up in the military ministry life (since my dad mostly worked that job). My mother was a piano teacher. When I was younger and couldn’t speak around toddler age, she would invite flash card drawings and music into a kind of language for me before I attended elementary school for the intellectually challenged. When my sister was still a baby, I attended that school on my own far away from my home all the way to Albany, NY. That elementary school became a stepping-stone to attend the same normal elementary school that my sister attended later on. I tried my best to catch up intellectually as the other kids and my sister but seemed to always stand out from social norms. I wouldn’t look teachers in the eye and didn’t respond to other kids if I had to work with them. At recess, the noise sensitivity of the playground overwhelmed me, so I would stay back inside the classroom and play with toys alone or with someone.
This self-routine of mine concerned teachers and parents after classes and speech therapy and was properly diagnosed with high functioning autism. By the time I was in third grade, I was switched permanently to special education. I was separated from my peers and daily routine, isolated from the in – crowd, and embarrassed that my accomplishments weren’t considered good enough. For a while it took some months of adjusting; from lessons in writing/reading and math for a curriculum lesser than the grade I was in, to art/crafts expression, and then group time to work with others in social activities every day. Those lessons helped me learn and grow to go on to middle school with the rest of the kids later on.
Middle school was the social jungle at the time, I would get lost easily because following directions and wandering off would happen frequently because I was scared to speak up and ask for directions. It was also harder at the time to make friends outside of special education because those students and me were the outsiders. Lunch/Recess time was very clicky and bullying occurred to those they would consider retarded. Sometimes crude language was involved from the popular girls, judgment was imputed on our style, and attracting popularity to the cute boys was peer pressure to fit in. That didn’t settle well with me, so again I’d avoid outside recess time and instead stay in the art classroom and paint alone in my free time. This new talent sparked my interest and opened up about myself with confidence, which promoted me to make 2-3 friends who shared my interests.
A year passed and my father gave us the news after my brother was born that we were moving to Hawaii. Just as I was developing as a child into what made me happy, seemed to slip away at my fingers. I threw tantrums at my parents and grew anxiety for that was to come. When we arrived in Hawaii, my mother encouraged me and my sister to be homeschooled and adjust without the pressure of a large school in Mililani. I was pleased to not have to be bullied anymore and get to have my mom as my teacher and my sister as the only other student. However, it overwhelmed my mother while she was also raising a new toddler and having no experience teaching in special education. So she had me and my sister join a homeschool group to get to meet other parents who were homeschool teachers to guide us through and even make friends with their kids. The group helped me discover new talents in geography and sports.
By the time, we finished middle school; I wanted to make the decision with my sister to attend a public high school without special education. I earned high grades and passed an entrance test in English/math/and history to attend public school. It was quite overwhelming, as I didn’t expect for the school to have so many students (over 600). I didn’t make friends in my freshman year because I didn’t know anyone from the middle school. By the time I excelled well in classes academically, over time in group projects I adjusted to making friends and exchanging small talk and to sit with them in lunch after. Other extracurriculars in my later years such as band, photography/art, and French helped me socialize and not be focused on my diagnosis and be judged on it. What ever I have learned in and what talents I’ve acquired shaped me to be better.
College became a different challenge in the world of adulthood, I had to learn to be on my own responsibly without the use of special education, although I had college tutoring I managed to get by. After taking a break from working and depression, I sought help from ABA therapy to continue for my bachelors. Today, it only gets better!
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.