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This guest post is by Sam Wessels, a young man on the autism spectrum who has been accepted into Augustana University. Sam is applying for the Spring 2020 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 and how to apply for my scholarship here. 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 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 here.

“Once upon a time, my parents were told I was never going to be ordinary. Now, I tell myself I’ll never settle for ordinary. Through working with my autism and overcoming obstacles, I can be proud to become extraordinary.”

My name is Sam Wessels. I am eighteen years old and currently a senior in high school. I’m just an ordinary guy with big dreams and extraordinary potential. Oh, and by the way, I also have autism.

Have you ever thought back on your life and realized just how expensive it must’ve been to raise you? When you were young, you needed baby toys, a crib, diapers, food, and possibly even medication. Baby toys alone can cost $30 to $50 dollars per month, depending on how fast you go through them. Now, multiply that by any siblings you might have had. Then add that to that the taxes they already had to pay and the needs they themselves have. Finally, factor in any unexpected payments such as car crashes, storm damage, and thefts. Add it all up and you get quite the hefty bill. Now consider, that this only addresses your life as a baby. The bill in your head doesn’t even account for new clothes, new food, and the more advanced games, books, and toys you’ll need growing up. Nor does it take into consideration the needs of a growing teenager. From their first car to their first year at college. All of this can dwarf that previous bill in cost exponentially.

Your parents know this. This is the contract they sign, the bills they agree to pay, when they decide to raise you. They know how much they’ll love you and it is well worth the cost to them.  But then you throw in an eternally unknowable factor, autism.

I feel confident in saying that no one has a ‘fits all’ answer to parenting. This isn’t a routine job; you’re not taking cash at the register or handing out homework. You’re shaping an individual. But it’s usually an individual you understand whom you are trying to raise. You were a child once, albeit one raised in a different time in the world, than this one. You can relate to them; you can understand them, maybe not perfectly, but you’re mostly confident you’ll figure it out. After all, people have been for generations.

Autism, just like any other neurological disorder, can sometimes throw off that understanding. Imagine trying to raise someone who sees the world differently from you, differently from everyone around you. For instance, “Just a few months ago, my child was speaking perfectly for his age. What happened?” Suddenly, your world is turned upside down. Your understanding is gone. All you can do is research to try and figure out what happened. But that’s the catch, no one fully understands it. Yes, there are people who can help, but no one has all the answers. Yes, you can help, but only so much. Where that line is tends to be completely arbitrary.

When you don’t understand, when even experts don’t understand, how can you expect strangers to understand? It’s a simple equation really: Lack of knowledge + lack of compassion = resentment. Parents such as these face constant judgement. They judge themselves. “Am I doing something wrong? Did I cause this? Am I doing enough?” They are also continually judged by those around them. “That kid is just spoiled. They should’ve just done a better job a raising their child.” And so on.

To my autistic readers, do you know why parents, truly good parents, go through all of that for their children? Why they would go through that for people like you and me? The answer is because you are worth it. They know that more than anyone can imagine, and no one can take that from you.

Every struggle I’ve managed to overcome in my life has been, in some part, overcome because of my parents. Make no mistake, my accomplishments are still my own. Their persistence helped me speak again, my ambition made me love speaking. Their hard work helped me learn to read, my imagination fostered my love of reading. My parents taught me to dream. I taught myself to dream bigger. I’ll never forget that.

I want each of you to remember this. Any good parent gives their children their first steps, it’s up to you to keep walking. As I transition into college, I take my next steps. I only ask that you walk alongside me. We all have dreams and challenges unique to us across this beautiful spectrum of ours. Once those dreams are met and challenges complete, all that’s left is to look fondly on those who made it possible.

To the people who made my dreams possible, my parents, thank you.

Follow my journey on Facebook, my Facebook Fan Page, & Instagram!

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.