Liam Herbst a young man on the autism spectrum who has been accepted into Iowa State University where he will be majoring in Chemical Engineering. Liam applied for the Spring 2018 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 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!).
I have both a form of autism known as Asperger’s Syndrome and Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD). Those with autism tend to not respond with the correct emotions expected socially, fail to notice any form of nonverbal communication, such as facial expressions, and struggle with developing and maintaining relationships. All these things are true of me. To put it in perspective, I was really interested in Dungeons and Dragons for many years, had read the large number of handbooks I bought cover to cover dozens of times each, created hundreds of character sheets, and yet had never played a single game with another. I struggled with belonging to any group. There were aspects of me that seemed to fit with any group and yet I didn’t feel quite right. I didn’t know how to read the mood of situations and thus I would be super excited while others were lax and vice versa. Others would not understand me or my disorder and would simply avoid me.
Having these disorders have led to multiple instances of difficulty and frustration. One event that stands out in my mind happened during the second grade. I had gotten in trouble because I threw a ball at someone during recess. I was in detention during lunch and told to write a couple of sentences explaining what I did and how I was sorry. The problem was, at that point, I didn’t know what “a couple” meant. I thought I had to write this a note multiple pages long. My brain shut down and I just couldn’t write anything. I was eventually sent to the office with the principal to finish but I still couldn’t think of anything to write. I ended up missing the rest of the day, including a special extra recess that was happening that day. I stayed so long that they called my mother to come in because school had ended and I still hadn’t written anything. She was the one who finally explained to me that “a couple” meant two. I was so upset and frustrated at my misunderstanding that I still remember those horrible feelings to this day. It made it hard for me to see writing as a positive thing.
I was finally diagnosed formally with Aspergers and ADD during my fourth-grade year. I was fortunate enough to get the assistance I needed from teachers trained to deal with autism. This has helped me adjust to the expectations in the classroom. It is not always easy, but with patience from others, I keep practicing the “little things” that eventually help me with the “bigger picture” later. I still struggle with some social cues and a few other hidden assumptions by others around me. I am learning to take one aspect at a time.
Because of my support, I have been able to overcome my difficulties and achieve great success. One of my proudest moments was in spring of my eighth-grade year. My family was looking ahead to the future and was concerned. My school requires that all juniors take the ACT. My parents were concerned with how I would behave when taking it because I had a habit of fidgeting, moving around, and making noises when taking tests. My special education teacher and my parents decided to have me take the test early as a trial run to see if any accommodations needed to be made for me in the future. However, when the results came back, that was the last thing on their minds. Not only had I behaved myself during the test, I actually scored a 29 with minimal preparation. My family was ecstatic. My parents decided that I should keep taking the ACT once a year to see how I did. Every year, my score kept increasing until finally, for my junior year, I earned a 35. The feeling of pride that came from achieving something that most people never do, while having a disability on top of it all, makes me indescribably proud.
These experiences have made me a stronger person. My frustrations have taught me that problems are only big if you make them big. My pride in my accomplishments has allowed me to realize that my capability is not limited by my autism. I can do just as well as those without autism and at times even better. If anything, I feel I can see life in a unique way that others without a disability may not be able to understand.
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.
We’d also appreciate if you could start a Facebook Fundraiser to support our nonprofit’s scholarship fund! You can learn more about how you can do just that here.