This guest post is by Lokeswaren Swaminathan a young man on the autism spectrum who has been accepted into Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Lokeswaren is applying for the Spring 2020 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 was diagnosed with autism at the age of 17, right at the end of my junior year. When I first found out that I had autism, I did not know how to react. For the past 17 years, it seemed that I was just a normal, intelligent kid with some odd quirks, but for the most part, a type of kid that you would have seen in the movies. When I read my diagnosis report, the status-quo that I had lived in for the past 17 years had been altered for the rest of my life. But then, I finally realized why I had some of those odd quirks such as talking to myself, not socializing with anyone, daydreaming, etc.

But after those days of initial shock, I started researching about autism and I read every single article and journal about autism. I am not sure when it happened, but I knew that trying to do what I had done for so long would make nothing better. I could not control what I was diagnosed with, but I could control how I reacted to my own circumstances. I embraced my autism and I found nothing wrong with doing so.

I remember those days when I was 10-years-old and I played with diecast cars in my living room and recreated an imaginary city in my head while doing so. I remember when I imagined myself high up in the sky, looking down at the world from a different perspective and seeing how amazing humanity is when looking down at the big buildings and large stadiums. It was built by people who also imagined those big buildings and stadiums would exist in the very same places in which they are right now.

I had done well in school until about 7th grade. It was during 7th grade when my grades started to falter and I was struggling in mathematics, which was my strongest subject. I did not know why I was struggling with a subject that I liked so much, and it was only until after my diagnosis 5 years later did, I realize the answer to that question. In school, everyone is taught that there is only one right way to solve a problem and this concept is drilled into the heads of the students until their originality and imagination are completely destroyed. Those that did not conform had their grades destroyed. That was what happened to me. I just could not understand the techniques that I had been taught and continued to use the ones that I liked and resulted in me doing poorly on a lot of assessments.

What is the point of education if it destroys your very capacity to think freely? It was not until 9th grade that I was finally able to do well on tests and use my originality at the same time. I still remember the letter that my 9th grade math teacher gave me in the last week of school.

In that letter, she said that I had forced her to look at problems differently which made her a better teacher, in her opinion. I still have that letter with me, and it is proof that an autistic person can come up with ways to solve problems that no neurotypical could have ever thought of.

Imagination is a very strong tool that every single autistic person possesses, and instead of being encouraged to use it, we are forced to suppress it because our parents told us, or our school told us to. Why? Why can’t us autistics have the freedom to think the way we want to? That is why the smartphones in our hands exist, why General Relativity was created, why we could go to the moon. Autistic people have played an important part in building the world in which we live today and if more autistics embrace their oddities and quirks, imagine the number of life-changing inventions we could create.

Instead of forcing myself to socialize with others because it was what “normal” people do, I doubled down on my passions and to this day continue to read everything that I can get my hands on. I continued to put all of my effort into extracurricular activities such as robotics, where I helped to design robots with my teammates that were unique and in many tournaments, our robot was the one that everyone was looking at asking the question that was on everyone’s mind: “How did they come up with that design?”

Any autistic person out there should never consider their diagnosis as a disability or a curse, but as a gift. The gift of being able to view the world in a way that literally 99% of the population cannot view. Autism is just a term to describe the fact that our brains are just fundamentally different than the average person and too often, people decipher difference as a problem.

I want every single autistic person reading this essay to never surrender their two greatest gifts to the demands of anyone: Imagination and originality. Do not change yourself just to appear like a normal person. No matter how hard we try, we will never be like the average person. But that is okay, because it is the people who are different from the average person that are the ones who change the world forever.

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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.