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This guest post is by Megan Elliot, a young woman on the autism spectrum who was accepted into Meredith College. Megan 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.

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.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but how could it be equivalent to a thousand words when you think only in pictures? I understand best when I can create a clear visual in my mind. I have to use what people say to make the overall picture in my head. Over time, I learned to appreciate that I can process information visually with confidence and apply it to my daily life; I have discovered I do not need to use my brain in a traditional way to understand — I did that for many years — and now I realize I can learn and succeed in my own way with pictures. This is just a glimpse into my experience as a person with autism.

In addition to the pictures in my head, photography has always played an important part in my childhood upbringing. My mom has always been big on taking as many photos as she can and makes sure that she gets at least one perfect photo from each event. To be perfectly honest, I used to hate this as a kid because I could not look at the camera. I struggle with looking at people in the eyes, and the camera is included in that struggle. Looking at the camera made me so uncomfortable, and I just simply didn’t know how to do it. It wasn’t something natural for me to do, and it was something I had to teach myself later on in life. In most of the photos when I was younger, I could be seen looking away from the camera. Now I look back to these photos, like one from the pumpkin patch field trip in kindergarten, and it brings me back to where I was that day, how I was feeling and thinking, and how much I have grown from that little girl at the pumpkin farm, and I am proud of her and who she has become.

There is one particular photo that is really important to me and my family. This photo is the one where my cousin and I are sitting together on a sofa smiling. This may sound like a sweet, ordinary photo, but the story behind it makes it worth much more than ordinary. That was the day my family discovered a new part of me from the specialists. They learned I was on the autism spectrum. This photo hangs very proudly at my house, as a reminder of how we learned about my autism; we celebrate it and see it as a beautiful gift. Autism is something to be embraced as a part of who I am, but it is not something that defines me. Instead it makes the full complete photo of me. The real me.

I have recently become more confident in spreading awareness about autism and my personal experiences with it. In my junior year of high school, I was a featured speaker at a monthly meeting of the school’s Awareness Club. I presented my own experience with autism and explained to everyone the importance of pictures in my life. Since that presentation, I have talked openly about my autism experience to friends, coworkers, teachers and peers at school. Though I have received many positive comments and have amazing support from my family and friends, there is one negative saying that sticks to me,“Well, you don’t look Autistic.” This statement brings a combination of confusion and rage. There is a misconception that you have to “look a certain way” to have autism. This opinion also seems to hint that autism is a negative trait to have, which is far from true. Yes, there are some negatives and obstacles that are a part of autism, but there are also positives that come from it that I would not change for the world.

My struggles in understanding someone’s facial expressions and body language have resulted in my empathy for someone else’s struggles; I am more accepting of people’s differences and don’t label their differences as who they are. I struggle with making eye contact, so I have become creative in finding ways to look at others whether it be in the eyebrows or forehead. The struggle of having a learning disability is a part of my autism has resulted in a strong work ethic and my ability to think outside the box to master concepts.

The greatest result of being a young woman on the autism spectrum is I can see the full picture. I value the physical photos and the pictures that live inside my head. I may not be the picture of autism most people expect, but instead my autism experience created a hard-working, empathetic and fearless advocate. I am captured in a beautiful photo that deserves to be seen.

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.