Home > Autism Speaks U, In Their Own Words > Coming Out: Autism in College

Coming Out: Autism in College

This guest post is by Autism Speaks staffer Kerry Magro.  Kerry, an adult who has autism, is a rising senior at Seton Hall University, majoring in Sports Management. He started an Autism Speaks U Chapter: Student Disability Awareness on campus to help spread awareness and raise funds for those affected by autism. Autism Speaks U is a program designed for college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events. It is an exciting and collaborative way for students to raise funds and awareness for Autism Speaks, while supporting their local autism communities.

Some of the biggest fears I’ve ever had in my life are the fear of the unexpected, fear of change, and the fear that I would be looked at differently. This all came into focus my first year of college at Seton Hall University. Before college, I had only told a few people that I was on the spectrum. This was mainly because when I was younger, when my parents would tell me I was autistic, I would have no idea what that meant or how that affected me. I only knew one thing – I was not artistic.

In both grammar school and high school, I never felt the need to tell anyone either since I went to a private school, Community Lower/Community High School in Teaneck, N.J., for students with learning disabilities. There was a certain comfort that I enjoyed, knowing that I was with others I could relate to. We all had something with some letters so it wasn’t a big deal.

When college came along, I didn’t know what to expect. When I was deciding on what college to go to, I chose the college that best matched my future career goals (sports management), not the school that would be best match my disability (a school with more accommodations). While well-meaning, the idea of me surviving at a post-secondary program which wasn’t the recommended choice by my high school academic advisors. They saw it as a huge mistake, which they thought would hurt me in the long run. I honestly could care less, looking back.

This brings me to the day I came out about my disability publicly. It was during one of my freshman classes in “Oral Communication.” My professor had told me to pick a topic that I knew a lot about to speak about for 10 to 15 minutes. The obvious choice in my mind was to pick autism, considering my public speaking skills were still very limited and I thought it would be an easy subject to talk about because I know a lot about it. The theme of the presentation was going to be “how autism impacts playing basketball while highlighting the story of Jason McElwain’s historic game, which illustrates how someone with autism can overcome the odds.”

For those who don’t know Jason McElwain, he was the high school basketball team water boy, who has autism, turned basketball star. He didn’t play one game in high school, until the last game of his senior year when he scored six three-pointers in a matter of minutes. This game became one of the bigger underdog stories in recent memory. So now I was set.  I would speak about him for five minutes, present a general overview of autism for another five minutes and than close by telling them that I had autism.

The day of the presentation, everything went according to plan. I had spoken about all of my main points; however, when it came down to telling my fellow peers I had autism in my closing statement … I froze. The thoughts that were running through my head were endless. What happens if they treat me differently? What happens if no one wants to have anything to do with someone who is different? Finally, after I started speaking again I reminded myself that the one fear, the one fear that I never want to let take the better of me is the fear of being who I am. Being me had taken me to a post-secondary education and being me was the only way I was going to get through this presentation.

At the end, my closing statement of my presentation was: “Autism can not define who you are, only you can define autism. I have autism so I know especially, and I ended up the captain of my high school basketball team so I can relate to this message.” As soon as this was said, I was applauded and given a standing ovation by both my professor and my peers. This was a wonderful feeling.

After the speech, I was very open to all my peers about being on the spectrum and have been since this day. Many people, both with autism and not, ask me if telling people I am on the spectrum was a mistake, and truth be told it has only made me stronger. Granted, things are not perfect. I am still judged and looked at by countless people as broken. I don’t dislike these people, however I pity them. People are still very unaware, sometimes ignorant and sometimes afraid of what might be different. During my time at Seton Hall, I have founded an organization to spread disability awareness called Student Disability Awareness (SDA) and founded a non-profit called KFM Making a Difference in the Community. Both of these organizations have meant a lot to me as I continue to promote disability activism throughout New Jersey. Since the days of that Oral Communication class I’ve gone on to speak at several different venues about my story and am hoping to continue to mentor and help those with and without disabilities who want to become more aware of disability awareness.

  1. Lydia Bush
    July 7, 2010 at 10:46 am

    I can’t wait to see my son grow up into a strong man like you have. People like you will be his role models and I am so grateful for you sharing your story.

  2. Andrea Dettke
    July 7, 2010 at 10:49 am

    Thank you for this inspiring story. My daughter, Kim, was just recently diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. She is 17 and going to college in just a few weeks. It is so great to hear of your success in school and what you did to get there. I can’t wait to share this article with her.

  3. Lori Anderson
    July 7, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    I would like to get autism speaks blogs via email please!

  4. Barbara Pons
    July 7, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    Wow! I really enjoyed you story. Very inspiring! Hopefully my 10 year old son can be as strong of a person as you are. Thanks for sharing!!

  5. G-mags
    July 7, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    Thanks for having the courage to speak out! You give hope to so many families whoare dealing with the first stages of learning their child is autistic and wondering what lies ahead for these special children. As a grandmother of a precious young autistic boy, I admire you and wish you nothing but success with all that lies in your future! Thanks for sharing your story with us.

  6. Eliza Kace
    July 7, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Kerry
    This is a very inspirational story. Did you attend camp at Camp Tikvah in Tenafly? If so I was one of your camp conselors. It was you and the other campers who I inspired me to become an OT.
    The best of luck!
    Eliza

  7. charlotte Abanes
    July 7, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    Thank you for sharing! I am definitly share this with my son David who is a freshman at our community college. His gift from God was music and he recieved a scholarship for it. Not many people know or can tell he has Aspergers. But he is proud of who he is and does not care what others think. In fact Aug 17th is our local Baseball teams night for Autism awareness and he has choosen to sing the Star Spangled banner for this. I don’t know his plans other than singing he may open up this night to let others know you can have a spectrum of Autism and still succeed at what God gave you to compensate for your weaknesses.
    Thank God for people like you in this world! He is now rehearsing for a production of Jesus Christ Superstar with one of the local theater groups with his uncle who has preformed on Broadway. Our family is very proud of all his successes!

  8. Ree Ginyard
    July 7, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story. My son is almost 4 and I pray that he grows into a strong young man like yourself. God Bless.

  9. Tom Lisi
    July 7, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    Kerry,
    Thanks for the telling of so much truth, yours and so many other people. Keep sharing you are reaching people in many places beyond the heart

  10. July 7, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    Kerry YOU ROCK! How inspiring. You touched so many lives that day you had your speech, more than you realize I’m sure. Keep educating people and giving them information so they can understand. AWESOME! Such an inspiring story for me as a mom raising my son with HFA:) Thank you.

  11. July 8, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    Thank you for telling your story. I love your attitude! Keep striving to be great!

  12. ileana morales
    July 9, 2010 at 2:15 am

    kerry, your story brought me to tears…and it gave me a lots of hops!. My son David is high functioning. he is now 17 and we have gone thru a rough spot in the last 2 years.He wants a girlfriend, but is very hard for him to socialize, properly,so he is not been accepted by his “regular” peers, and that made him become frustrated, he turned aggressive and self injury,until one day, I formed a little club, I called the mother of all of his classmates, and I take them to “hang out” every friday. We go to the movies, bowling.arcade games, sweet 16 parties etc…and it has been a blessing..he is not frustraded anymore,,,David and his friends are to busy planning the next friday hang out..Our little club is working!!!- I read that you are doing a wonderfull job teaching people about autism…I know a lot of parents of teens on the spectrum are goingtthru what I went thru.. if you could teel these parents that what we are doing is working..would be great!!! and thank you for the wonderfull work you are doing…(sorry, for any misspell, English is my 2nd language).

  13. Alex Rose
    July 9, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    Kerry, your story was incredibly inspiring. My son Jake was diagnosed with Autism about 11 months ago, and is absolutely in love with basketball. Reading stories like yours gives me a great deal of hope about the man my little boy can hopefully grow into. Thank you for sharing, and the best of luck to you in all your endeavors.

  14. Denise
    July 25, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    Kerry,

    Every time I think my respect and admiration for you has peaked you turn around and do something else. You are amazing. Thank you for being an inspiration to us and an incredible role model for Oliver. Keep knocking our socks off as I know you will!

    Denise

  15. lilyrose
    September 6, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    Hi Kerry,

    That took a lot of courage for you to share that you too have autism. Bravo for doing that. I so appreciate what you have gone through and how you chose to be positive. My husband left a message for you here also and has shared your story with me. I shared your story with MoCAA, a mothers’ support group that I belong to in San Antonio. Our son is nearly 4 years old and I wish for you all that I wish for him–to be positive, happy, loved, and fulfilled in all that you do.

    Lily

  16. February 22, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    we should have a convinion for people with autism and aspbergers like my self with autism a mile one but i haert people like me.

  17. September 6, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    This is a wonderful article! I too was diagnosed with and “came out” with autism in college. After a particularly disturbing incident where there was a lot of misunderstanding about what some of the behaviors of autism look like, I decided to publish an article in my school’s newspaper about what Asperger’s was. I later submitted and published that article in the local newspaper. It is a wonderful thing, to be who you are. Your talking of Jason McElwain makes me think of the autistic surfer I heard about, he’s really good at surfing, but of course he has a lot of difficulties socially. There’s a video of him here if you are interested http://www.aspergerssociety.org/articles/58v.htm . I wish you all the best in the future!

  1. July 8, 2010 at 2:21 pm
  2. September 20, 2010 at 9:00 am
  3. September 21, 2010 at 1:19 am

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