This guest post is by Caleb Aardahl, a young man on the autism spectrum who was accepted into Iowa State University. Caleb is applying 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!).

Life is a journey that gives us many challenges that we must face, but we overcome our fears and move on. As a student autism was a struggle for me. It was hard to make friends. I was excluded from groups and I was the one that was always picked last. Throughout my life many people said that I could not be as smart as them. I want to prove those people were wrong and make a name for myself. I used to struggle with every day functions from communication to feeling acceptance. If we are to fear the future, what is to become of us? We cannot give up! You are just as smart as anyone else and you should recognize it.

In my opinion the biggest challenge that people face with autism is fitting in. Whether it comes from feeling uncomfortable or trying to see how to fit into certain situations, many times it is harder for us to figure out how to adapt to societal norms. People with autism view things in a different way, and many times people will say that they’re wrong for looking at things in a certain way. It’s only because it’s different to them and they’re not used to it. That is why people with Autism should be treated with respect. People with autism shouldn’t feel ashamed of themselves, remember that.

Another challenge that we face today is getting people to feel like they’re accepted in society. Without acceptance you really feel unlike others and disregarded as a person. We all want to be able to feel just like anyone else without being judged or shunned out of groups. Many times, it’s harder for people with autism to fit into groups. I really struggled in my past with this. I couldn’t fit in with society and finding a reliable group of friends wasn’t working. It wasn’t until I started taking classes through the PSEO program at Concordia University I finally felt acceptance. In college there is no feeling of judgmental attitudes, it didn’t matter who you were everyone was working towards the same goal with the same rigorous coursework. If we are to let people with autism fit into groups you must let them experience a little bit of freedom. I was eventually able to prove to the state of Minnesota that I did not need special education and that I could function on my own.

After that happened, I did not feel embarrassed to have autism. Now people wouldn’t know about my past in special education, I could put that all behind me. Often, when I had special education it was an embarrassment to be pulled out of class. I was able to understand what the point was being made in special education and it felt like I already knew how to function without this support. I felt it would be better to learn on my own without boundaries and go at my own pace and figure out the world for myself. I knew that there would be mess ups, but we are all human and make mistakes. If you’re not making mistakes you aren’t learning. You need to give these people freedom to feel like themselves. You just don’t keep a person cooped up without social freedom. How are we supposed to learn and experience the world first hand? I eventually gained my freedom, have you gained yours?

Another uphaul was bullying, it was hard to get through Middle School because of this outcome. I was often left out of the groups at gym and was put with all the other kids that no one wanted to be with. The result of this treatment immediately put me down. I made close friends with these people because they were all that I had. That’s why I wanted to prove to everyone else I can just be like them, to prove to them that I was able bodied as them. I worked harder and harder, pushing myself to the limits. It’s only when you keep pushing yourself you realize you have more potential in yourself than you did first hand. The struggle with endurance is that it’s was harder to keep up with the pace that other kids were at. Eventually as I kept pushing myself I was able to reach that point of success and prevailed. Before success comes pitfalls and unfinished resolutions. We need to let people with autism push themselves and break through any walls that they’re struggling with. Whether it be through normal face-to-face conversations or basic knowledgeable socializing skills we need to cross those boundaries. Breaking through those walls makes us who we want to be. It’s the end goal to be that confident person that is held up inside of you. You are the only one that can change it.

You are the only one that can break your walls. I was that kid who was at the bottom, I was the one who was always afraid, I was the one who failed, I was the one who was fearful, I cried out of fearfulness, things I didn’t understand, things that I didn’t know. That doesn’t mean you have to stop there, when you are faced with a challenge the world feels if it may be against us. You are a master piece that is still being shaped, our endless path unknown, what lies ahead a mystery, you will seek and find what you are looking for someday, just don’t give up on yourself. If I didn’t have autism today I would not be the person that I am today. I would never change it for the world. Be prideful that you are autistic. Be proud that you can be different. I have a voice and so do you, now use yours.

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

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