This guest post is by Taylor Funai, a young woman on the autism spectrum who has been accepted into Grove City College. Taylor 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. Can I ask for a favor? 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 and subscribing to our Youtube page here 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 with a small donation (just asking for $3 today, equal to your daily cup of coffee) here.
I will never know how my life would have been if I had been diagnosed with autism when I was younger. I was not diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder until I was 17 years old and a senior in high school. Of course, this does not mean that I suddenly developed autism overnight. The signs of my autism were there, but they were not what people usually think of when they envision autism. There were no meltdowns, no over-reactions, no speech delays, or language barriers. I met every milestone for children my age on time or ahead of other kids. But my autism was there, simmering under the surface, unnoticed in the face of my achievements.
Growing up, I struggled with almost every aspect of school. There was never a time when school was easy for me. It was common for me to spend five or six hours each night on homework – mostly on math it seemed. I could not quite grasp the abstract thinking math required. Oftentimes, my parents would gather items from around our house to represent the math problem I was having difficulty with. I remember gathering beans and coins to help me visualize the problems in my homework. We had a jar full of coins dedicated to my math homework. Although math continues to cause me no small degree of strife, language arts was something I have always excelled at. Even as a young child, I found myself reading above my grade level and beyond what we were expected to read. I remember being proud of the fact that I was the first person in my class to start reading chapter books. Since I had a difficult time communicating with others growing up, I found that I preferred the comfort provided by having a book in my hands.
Since it was difficult for me to develop deep connections with other people, both socially and emotionally, I was left feeling isolated from other children my age. It felt like there was a barrier or a wall suddenly thrown up between me and other children. I was not sure how to act around people and it caused me a lot of stress. I did not know what to say, how to act, or how I should be responding. I often settled for mimicking behavior that I had seen before. Even when I did not understand a joke I learned how to laugh along with others to fit in. Looking back at some of my behavior, I am not sure what was me copying people or what was my actual reaction. Sometimes it felt like my own personality was merely an accumulation of behaviors I had witnessed and copied.
Ever since I was little, I have been obsessed with understanding myself and other people. This did not come naturally to me, therefore I tried my hardest to understand those around me. When I was younger, I remember helping my friends with their problems. I listened and would urge them to seek their own understanding of whoever they were fighting with. I would give advice, if they wanted it, and sometimes I would hear back from my friends saying how my advice helped them to make up with their friends. I felt as if these conversations enabled me to develop a better understanding of how people work and feel. Oddly enough, it still left me feeling isolated. It was easier for me to understand other people, but I was still missing the feeling of connection with kids my age as well as with myself. I still did not understand myself at all.
Now, you may be thinking that if I had all these seemingly obvious difficulties, why wasn’t I diagnosed until my last year of high school? Nearly every year at parent-teacher conferences, my parents would talk about my difficulties with socialization and let them know I was spending hours every evening completing my school work. While I had no diagnosis, it felt like there was something “off” about me in comparison to other children my age. However, since I was an “A” student and I always did well in my classes, my teachers thought that was good enough. I succeeded and, therefore, many people assumed that I did not struggle. My struggles were so silent, most did not believe I struggled at all.
Finally, receiving my diagnosis felt like a weight being lifted off of my chest. In the month since my diagnosis, I have already read several books, watched documentaries, and read multiple articles about autism. After reading personal stories from other people on the spectrum, I finally feel like I am capable of being accepted. After so many years of agonizing over my sense of self, I can finally begin to truly understand who I am. I may not have officially been a part of the autism community for long, but I already feel like I belong.
I feel that if I had been tested earlier on, I may have had more help with the aspects of my life I struggled with. The diagnosis of “being on the spectrum” gave me the option of aid and accommodations I could have used to make school more manageable. I feel that an earlier diagnosis would have helped me to understand and navigate social situations from a younger age. As I move onward to college, and later onto a career, I am glad that I have learned how to advocate for myself. I have learned that an earlier diagnosis could lead to an easier path and help to level the playing field for others on the spectrum.
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.