This guest post is by Ashley Fieber, a young woman on the autism spectrum who was accepted into and is attending Furman University. Ashley is applying for the Spring 2021 Making a Difference Autism Scholarship via the nonprofit KFM Making a Difference started by me, Kerry Magro. I was nonverbal till 2.5 and diagnosed with autism at 4 and you can read more about my organization here. Can I ask for a favor? I’m trying to make this nonprofit self-sufficient so I can make this my full-time job supporting the special needs community and would appreciate you taking a minute before reading on to watch this video below and subscribing to our Youtube page here to get to learn more about the work we do in the community.
I hope you can support my nonprofit like I’m trying to support these students with scholarship aid for college. Learn more on how you can help our cause with a small donation (just asking for $3 today, equal to your daily cup of coffee) here.
Having already told my backstory once before for this site in a previous essay, I will not go all the way back to the beginning. Instead, I would like to share an update on how I prepared myself for college and took that challenge head-on. It will be the story of what I did right and what I fell short of achieving. It will be the story of braving my first semester at college. It wasn’t perfect, but it was more than I would have thought I could accomplish.
Underestimating myself tends to be one of my greatest faults, and my anxiety often gets the better of me. It was powerful enough to convince me at the start of the school year that I would not be capable of handling the stress and pressure of college work. I can remember several breakdowns in the first few weeks that so affected me that I lost a bunch of weight from not eating. I can easily recall the anxiety of getting that first homework assignment for Chemistry and realizing I had six long chapters to read in just two weeks. It was like getting a semi-truck to the face. I can remember saying, “I knew it was going to be rough, but I didn’t think it would be this awful!” With my severe anxiety and tendency to perseverate too long on reading assignments for school, I thought for certain that I was doomed. I even questioned my choice of major that I had been so certain about just weeks earlier, and I wondered what I was doing with my life. Part of that anxiety I am certain stemmed from COVID-19.
All I can say is that I am glad my mom took the time to reason with me and counsel me until I calmed down and started thinking more rationally again. After several long discussions, I finally managed to convince myself that I was just overstressing things as usual and that I could, in fact, do this. And you want to know the crazy thing? I did.
Though filled with lots of needless anxiety, I did manage to persevere through the semester and finish strong. I ended up getting three A+’s and one A. I volunteered several times, crafting dog toys for a shelter, writing holiday cards for prisoners, and gathering supplies for a donation drive. However, I did learn a valuable lesson which I am going to try to apply to my next semester: sometimes, I focus a little too much on perfection. I sacrificed my own personal mental health for those grades at times.
I am not going to lie; the transition to college was especially rough because of my autism. With my underlying condition on top of COVID-19, the transition meant that I struggled to find friends. It was undeniably easier to convince myself that staying in my room and socially isolating myself was for the better. I was not getting COVID that way, after all! However, it soon became evident that I really needed a friend, but my social anxiety kept managing to convince me that everyone had already formed their friend groups, and I would not be accepted. I let my fear of initiating social interaction get the better of me for the entirety of the semester, which I know now was a mistake. Even if I had found the courage to try to make a friend, my other excuse was that I was ‘too busy.’
However, I am not going to let this setback be a failure. I know now that I need to take initiative and put myself out there in order to find my community. I will make an effort to ask people to go to the dining hall with me and initiate conversations with people in my classes. One thing I will need to work on is remembering faces, which has become especially difficult with masks. I also attended the Paladin Ink creative writing club a few times, but next semester, I plan on making more time for that. Hopefully, once it is not virtual, the possibility of making a true friend there will be more probable. I do not plan on letting my social anxiety due to autism get the better of me this time around! Next semester, I plan on getting good grades, but maybe all A’s instead of A+’s because, in the end, the A+’s do not actually make a difference in my GPA. Instead, I plan on creating a balance of mental health and success that will be far more productive and maintainable in the long run.
My name is Kerry Magro, a professional speaker and best-selling author who is also on the autism spectrum that started the nonprofit KFM Making a Difference in 2011 to help students with autism receive scholarship aid to pursue a post-secondary education. Help support me so I can continue to help students with autism go to college by making a tax-deductible donation to our nonprofit here.