This guest post is by Jared Hites a young man on the autism spectrum who is currently attending Itasca Community College. Jared is applying for our 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).

My name is Jared Hites, I’m 19 years old from Hermantown, Minnesota. I am the oldest of four kids. I have PDD-NOS and ADHD. I am currently pursuing an Engineering Degree at Itasca Community College, Grand Rapids, MN. Then I plan to transfer to University of MN-Duluth to complete my BS Engineering.

I am currently in my 2nd Semester of my Freshman year at Itasca Community College. Even though this is a Community College I do live on campus in the dorms as the school is about 1 ½ hours from home. I chose this school for their Engineering program and smaller campus. I knew I’d have a better chance of succeeding in college starting out in a smaller space.

My diagnosis of PDD-NOS, an Autism Spectrum diagnosis, and ADHD have greatly impacted how I interact in school and how I developed into the person I am today. I was diagnosed when I was seven and four years old respectively. I have to overcome obstacles on a daily basis because of my Autism.

High functioning Autism is an invisible disability making it harder for people to comprehend that you have a disability. “Autism”, the word itself, doesn’t describe or define what exactly is not functioning properly in someone’s mind. Just like the word “cookie” doesn’t describe every possible flavor of cookie. Although chocolate chip might be the most common, it’s by no means the only flavor. Autism is a Spectrum, it can’t be defined by only one definition. Like looking at the many shades of a color: blue; the color has a broad range of shades from light to extremely dark. Upon first hearing someone is Autistic, some might automatically visualize a nonverbal person, rocking back and forth, staring and playing with his fingers. But this is a stereotype used in the past to portray Autism on television. Luckily today some prime time television shows have the main story line around characters with high functioning Autism. I really like watching these shows as I relate to their thinking patterns, body posture and vocal inflections.

I myself can’t maintain eye contact while speaking. Not even with my parents. My eyes dart off to the left or right frequently with an occasional stop to actually look at the persons face. The more stressed I feel with the social interaction, the more frequent my eyes will dart off. I also don’t pick up on the emotion/meaning of nonverbal facial/body gestures. This has a negative impact on the messages I send and receive, as they say only 10% of verbal communication is related to the actual words spoken. I really only express two emotions: excitement and anger.   I think this is why I have such extreme opinions and reactions most of the time. Otherwise the majority of the time I would say people would say I have a “flat affect”. My mom still gets excited or happy when she catches me smiling, as I guess it takes a lot to make me smile and I don’t do it too frequently. My lack of voice inflection can make me sound like I don’t care about anything. I do care, however, this is just how I speak. I have a few sensory issues too. I don’t like the feel of having my socks off, I twirl my hair for comfort (when I’m feeling high anxiety I twirl faster) and I don’t like loud talking from crowds. It hurts my ears being in noisy environments. This may also contribute to why I like to be alone.

I’m finding my college path a little frustrating. I felt I had taken control of my last few high school years and was excelling. I was comfortable in the environment, with the teachers and with my IEP (Individual Education Plan). However, living away from home at college everything is new. It has taken time to get into a routine and feel comfortable. Sadly I reverted back to an old social comfort of not asking for help. This is something I have struggled with since kindergarten. Even when I knew I didn’t understand something I would never ask for help. This progressed to me believing I truly did understand, despite receiving poor grades. This slip has cost me greatly. I have now added an extra year to obtaining my college degree, and lost out on the money I paid for Pre Calculus books and class. This failure spiraled and caused me to not be able to progress onto the next classes because of prerequisite requirements. I take accountability for my failure. I did seek help from the Disability Coordinator, but I waited too long to do this. I did take her help and used the resources for the next eight weeks to prepare me to retake this class Spring Semester. So far three weeks into this eight weeks class, I’d say I’m doing 80% better.

Despite my hard academic start I have had many personal successes. I’m living away from home, managing my money, living with roommates, doing laundry, grocery shopping, cooking (somewhat), using time management, volunteering at local Humane Society and still working at Home Depot whenever I come home on school breaks. My parents are proud of me for all these achievements and say no matter what happens with the rest of my college career, I have been successful in my life growth to independence.

-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 contacting him here