This guest post is by Nicholas Kolar, a young man on the autism spectrum. Nicholas will be attending the University of Wisconsin–Baraboo/Sauk County. Nicholas is applying for our Summer 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.

Albert Einstein once stated, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” This statement rings perfectly true for me. One of the greatest difficulties that I have faced is discovering that I have Asperger’s Syndrome. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in my senior year of High School. This diagnosis helped me and my family understand why I’d always had behaviors and attitudes that were considered unusual.

All my life I had struggled with this condition without even knowing it. Being the kid in school that nobody understands and continuously struggling in social situations was a daily routine for me. In grade school, I was the alien on the playground, a social outlaw, a weirdo, a three-dollar bill. I constantly thought about how I felt different and how peculiar my personality was compared to other kids. You could see it in my eyes as I trekked across the playground with nobody to talk to. General kid business was a mystery to me. While other kids were playing tag, I was busily decoding bee behavior and contemplating the mysteries of plant life.

In middle and high school, social challenges became towering obstacles that I could not even comprehend. The inability to relate to my peers was overwhelming. I had zero interest in mainstream teenage behavior and social norms. I was prone to solitary intervals of deep, concentrated thoughts on obscure subjects like cosmology, linguistics, botany, and geometry. During these times I would be almost entirely oblivious to simple social behavior like combing my hair and saying hello to friends. As everyone else on the school bus was laughing and talking, I was staring out the window with my mind faraway in profound imagination. I was alone, with only my own thoughts to keep me company.

Truthfully, the Asperger Syndrome diagnosis was a blessing. Now, rather than being an outcast, I feel like a member of a strange and exclusive club of creative thinkers. I have learned to recognize and embrace the mental strengths I possess, while admitting and working to improve my social weaknesses. I like to think that Einstein himself may had had Asperger’s Syndrome, and the monumental theories that he proposed prove that non-linear thinking philosophers are highly valuable, if often misunderstood, and integral to our society.

I started my first job at McDonald’s when I was a junior in high school. Over five years later, I have the same job. I work at least one day per week throughout the school year, and full-time hours during the summer. My job has been the source of many life lessons that I couldn’t have learned anywhere else. At work I am an important member of a fast-moving team, and my attendance and high performance is expected and required every day. I feel a strong commitment to my coworkers and to my employer to show up ready to work and do my best. This duty to perform is what gets me up early to go to work. My work performance has become a powerful motivating factor in my life.

Additionally, I have learned to appreciate and respect my coworkers, many of whom work to support families, and survive at or below the poverty line. I have learned that not all people in this world have the mental and/or financial ability to attend college. Most notable are some of my co-workers who are immigrants from foreign nations. They work hard, never ask for sympathy or charity, and they give away or share most of the little they earn with other people in their family. I consider them to be some of the most genuine people I have ever met, and I am thoroughly grateful for the experience of getting to know them and understanding their life journeys. Needless to say, my experience of working at McDonald’s has taught me to never pass judgment or disrespect any person based on their country of origin, the language they speak, or job they must do to support their family.

During my freshman year of college, my calculus professor gave me a high compliment by recommending me to become a math tutor on campus. I was extremely honored, and astonished to discover that I might have a talent to offer and share with others.

I have been greatly surprised at the enriching and enlightening effects tutoring has had on my life and my personality. Tutoring is the same as teaching, and the act of passing on knowledge to another person is deeply fulfilling for me, for I believe that all people can become better educated with the help of a guide. It is extremely rewarding and inspiring for me to teach and help someone I’ve never met to learn something new or conquer a longtime learning challenge.

Tutoring has also helped me develop and improve my own interpersonal social skills during the one-on-one, face-to-face communicating sessions needed to help a student. I have become more secure and comfortable expressing myself. I have discovered that certain facial expressions and speaking patterns can make a huge difference in keeping students calm and open minded. Additionally, tutoring also keeps me on top of my own math skills, as I may help with a problem that I haven’t tackled since high school.

Even though I have always known I am different, I have always worked hard at my education, knowing that someday I would have a place in this world. Through practice and honest self-evaluation, I have progressed considerably since starting college. The overall improvement has been undeniable and irreversible, with the greatest benefit being the increase in confidence that I had never experienced before.

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

Kerry Magro, an international 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, one of the only professionally accredited speakers on the spectrum in the country, speak at your next event by contacting him here