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Reflection on Autism

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, while supporting their local autism communities.

Over a year ago, I was approached by Autism Speaks to appear in a video called, “Join Us” which was a Thank You Video that was made for the 5th Year Anniversary of Autism Speaks. During the video several people got to speak about autism including myself. Since then Autism Speaks has opened the door to numerous opportunities for me to help spread awareness about autism. While looking back at the past year I took some time with this blog post to reflect on my own experiences with autism and how I can relay what I’ve learned into ways that could help others. The lists below discuss my questions, others peoples’ questions/misconceptions, interests of my own involvement with autism, and ways to help those, like myself, who are in college with autism succeed.

10 Questions I’ve always asked myself about my disability:

  1. Why Me?
  2. Does autism define me or do I define autism? (I know I define autism but it’s something I’ve always asked myself in repetition)
  3. Why do I have the ability to communicate better than others with autism?
  4. How did autism get started anyway; where did it come from?
  5. No one in my family has autism so why do I have it?
  6. If I have kids someday do they have a stronger chance of having autism?
  7. Was I misdiagnosed; how many individuals with autism live their lives wrongfully diagnosed?
  8. Will I find someone who is exactly like me on the autism spectrum?
  9. What can I be doing to make those more aware of autism through my own life experience?
  10. Do my loved ones and individuals around me treat me differently because I am autistic? Would it be different if I wasn’t?

10 Comments/Questions I’ve heard people say about autism (either directly or indirectly)

  1. People with autism cannot live a normal life.
  2. I couldn’t love someone with autism, they are just too different.
  3. People with autism only have the capability of being loved and being in love with those who are also autistic.
  4. Autism or not, people are people, all with distinct characteristics that make them unique.
  5. Isn’t autism a disease that could be spread through vaccines in flu shots?
  6. Why do more white children have autism than black children?
  7. Rich families have a better shot at beating autism than those who don’t have the money to pay for treatment.
  8. Is autism only a communication disorder?
  9. Family members more often than not suffer more than those who are autistic.
  10. None of us are perfect at communication so doesn’t that mean there is a little autism in all of us?

My Top 5 movies involving autism:

  1. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
  2. Adam
  3. Mozart and The Whale
  4. Temple Grandin
  5. Forrest Gump

Favorite book about autism: “A Regular Guy: Growing Up With Autism” Author: Laura Shumaker

When I was diagnosed with autism: 4 and a half

When I first understood I had autism: When I was about 11 and a half.

Favorite moment: Getting into College

Worst moment: Being told that I would die alone by a peer.

Favorite college moment: Getting accreditation for starting a student organization to spread awareness for disabilities called “Student Disability Awareness.”

10 tips for succeeding in college with autism

  1. Life is unfair at times but you should never let yourself turn into the victim.
    Don’t pity yourself or let others pity for you. Be independent and show what your strengths are while you working on your weaknesses.
  2. Spread awareness in everything you do.
    The fact is most college students will not have autism, or rather a disability at all. Be informative, use social media and word of mouth as much as possible to get the word out. This doesn’t mean primarily towards autism either. Spreading awareness of many different things you are aware of can lead to a more accepting and understanding environment.
  3. You’re paying for the education, get every accommodation you need!
    Regardless if your school is disability friendly or not you have the right to reasonable accommodations. Most colleges just get by with the minimum. Make a stand; learn what reasonable accommodations not only you should receive but what others should be getting too. You could lead to helping a future student with autism have an easier experience by being proactive. If you are not sure what accommodations you should be getting discuss it with an elementary/high school advisor who did your IEP for grammar/high school. Early Intervention is key not only when you are young, but in maximizing every aspect of your life. Research, research, research!
  4. Conquer your fears early on.
    One of my favorite poems of all time by poet Marianne Williamson starts out with this line, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” As someone with autism, we all have our focus on certain things that can be seen as strengths. At the same time we also have those things that we focus on that we can be afraid of. The fear of change is the biggest fear that relates to someone with autism in regards to going to college. There are too many what ifs and this is why many young adults tend to opt to live at home rather than go to the college dormitories, especially early on. The faster you can conquer these fears, the faster you can focus on your main objectives and goals out of your college education.
  5. Be proud of who you are!
    It is something that can be forgotten very easily. To get into college is a tremendous accomplishment. For someone with autism to get to college is even more momentous of an occasion. It gives tremendous hope to others so always be willing to share your stories, you never know whose listening.
  6. Always take notes.
    This is for both inside the class room and out. It is sometimes very difficult to read the perceptions of other people. From one of my last posts called The Blind Side, I mentioned I sometimes have the ability to not understand views from other people’s perspectives. If you become more calculated in your approach to college, and try to take a deeper understanding of others it can help in your overall social development. Have a little notebook that you take place to place to make sure you have the ability to write down these notes and come back to them later to reflect.
  7. Don’t let clutter bother you!
    Recently I’ve learned in one of my business classes about the concept of “cognitive dissonance,” meaning having too many thoughts in your mind at one time. Stress can be overbearing so attempt to find a place on campus where you feel most at peace with. This goes with noise also. In college there can be a lot of this whether it is in the dorms, class rooms, or out somewhere on campus. If you want to avoid noise also consider noise canceling headphones.
  8. Exercise!
    This is a more general concept but for me, I always had difficulty with hand eye coordination and my motor skills in general so I knew being physically fit was important to my overall development. Autism can affect motor skills so for some this tip will be more useful than to others. Find a daily regiment where you can contribute at least 30 minutes of physical activity to your schedule.
  9. Find out what type of learner you are!
    Personally, math and pictures have always been my first language and words have always come second to me. My thoughts in my mind run like videos. This tip helps with the above tip in regards to accommodations. If you know what you are best at, maybe you can find a way to negotiate with your professors on ways to make the class more suits yourself.
  10. Communicate as best you can!
    Some of the easiest problems to conquer in college are caused by a lack of communication. If you are not comfortable in doing so, make sure someone else around you knows how to help you with  this. Independence is not learned over night but it’s almost impossible to get through college with your family calling all your shots. All disability support offices/services will stress the concept of independence to you and therefore you need to make steady goals and steps on how to overcome any dependency issues you may have.

These tips are simply based on my own thoughts and opinions. Remember that there’s a program that supports college students and the autism community. Get involved with Autism Speaks U to see how you can spread autism awareness on campus and in your community!

I welcome others thoughts and ideas on these subjects in the comments below or through email. Finally, I want to thank everyone who has been reading my posts over the past seven months. Reading your comments and your emails have been very impactful in my own development as a writer. Each new comment/email makes me construct my writing in a way to better help everyone.

As I’ve done in the past feel free to email me if I can be of any assistance. I always try to respond to emails in a timely fashion and try to find more ways that I can reach out to the autism community, and if this is a way I could do so I would be glad to help. Thank you all so very much!

(This is one of my Autism Speaks U related blog posts. If you would like to contact me directly about questions/comments related to this post I can be reached at kerry.magro@autismspeaks.org.)

  1. Adam Vogel
    December 6, 2010 at 4:26 pm | #1

    I agree Kerry with your tips to success. I just would like to know how is college going for you at Seton Hall University. I just hope you have a successful time finding a job. I don’t know what kind of job you are looking for with a degree in sports management, but good look! It’s tough right now, so don’t get too frustrated.

    Merry Christmas to you and everyone one else reading this blog!

  2. Suzanne Mack
    December 6, 2010 at 5:24 pm | #2

    You really are a great kid who cares enough to put yourself out there to help other kids and families who need the inspiration and the hope.

    The Remarkable Kerry Francis Magro!

  3. Barbara Stamato
    December 6, 2010 at 6:41 pm | #3

    Kerry – i am blown away by your writing. you are wise beyond your years. I know the future holds great things for you. Good luck and God bless you!

  4. kathy
    December 6, 2010 at 8:50 pm | #4

    You are an inspiration to parents everywhere, especially parents who have children on the spectrum. You give us hope and a better understanding of your daily struggles as well as achievements.
    Thank you for letting us inside your life.
    Wish you lots of happiness and success.

  5. Joanne Van Dorn
    December 7, 2010 at 8:49 am | #5

    Terrific job Kerry! I learn more each time I check in with your activities. Answer to #10 of your questions: I don’t think so!!!! Your Mom and Dad would have done the same great job they have of focusing on your abilities and encouraging you to make the most of them. You really picked up the ball and ran with it, and the confidence you project is a result of your own experience in the world, and that is the basis of your interaction with others now.
    Also, don’t worry about dying alone. I read somewhere once that every one is born alone, and dies alone – it’s how you LIVE in between that matters! The Beatles said it well: “and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make!”

  6. Gaye Dunstan
    December 7, 2010 at 10:23 am | #6

    Kerry, you are an inspiration. One day, I want me son, Jonah, who is 10 and also on the spectrum, to meet you. Thank you, Kerry – for all you do!

  7. dcohen@communityhighschool.org
    December 7, 2010 at 11:01 am | #7

    Kerry -

    This is simply terrific. It is insightful and informative throughout and provides a tremendous overview. In particular, your 10 ‘tips” are all clearly very meaningful and well thought out. Keep up all of your good work. We are proud of you.

    Dennis Cohen

  8. andrew nelson
    December 7, 2010 at 4:22 pm | #8

    great stuff here. Thanks so much for the insight and for all you do!

  9. Colleen Dooley
    December 7, 2010 at 5:37 pm | #9

    Wonderful work Kerry! Very informative.

  10. Krishna Murthy
    December 7, 2010 at 6:29 pm | #10

    Kerry –

    Thank you for sharing your tips. It helps me to better understand the concerns of some of some of my colleagues.

    Krishna Murthy

  11. Senator Bob Menendez
    December 8, 2010 at 11:45 am | #11

    Great blog post Kerry! Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and experiences with Autism. You are truly an inspiration to everyone with autism and I am blessed to know you. Having advocated for many years in congress on behalf individuals and families affected by autism I can say without hesitation that it is people like Kerry who are making the real difference every day in people’s lives.

  12. Bart Erbach
    December 9, 2010 at 7:09 am | #12

    I learned a lot about Autism from reading this post, Kerry, but most of all I was impressed with your positive spirit. I’m going to share it with some others. I look forward to reading future posts.

  13. Kathy Miick
    December 10, 2010 at 9:48 pm | #13

    I was very impressed after reading all your wonderful words so articulately written. It is a great thing you are doing. So many people are not aware nor understand the autism spectrum, but with your guidance I am sure you will open the eyes of many. It is so true that awareness is the key to understanding and you are playing a significant part in spreading the awareness. I commend you for what you are accomplishing. Keep reaching for your goal!
    Your Old Playdrom Bowling Friend,
    Kathy

  14. Alexandra Johnson
    December 12, 2010 at 10:09 pm | #14

    This article was very well written and served almost as a diary to be able to understand certain things about Autism that cannot be read in a book or a research article

  15. December 16, 2010 at 11:36 am | #15

    Hi Kerry, thank you for the a wonderful Blog Post! Parents and people coming together and sharing their information, experiences and fears about their own children. I have meet new friends from this Blog and we now share a better understanding from our own experiences about our children. We all can learn so much from each other. May God Bless you in all that you do in life.

  16. Dan Kurtz
    December 19, 2010 at 7:57 pm | #16

    Kerry
    I enjoyed reading your blog. My first introduction to autism was Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man, later augmented with scattershot tidbits via Wikipedia. In the few times we met in scenic Bayonne I would never have guessed that you had any disability, and with your reported (admittedly by mother) academic prowess in both HS and SH I thought your autism was more of an inconvenience than a handicap. That your success is actually a testiment to hard work and self awareness makes your unfolding story ever more amazing. I appreciate now that much of your determination comes from your mom, and that her ability to turn adversity into advantage stems largely from you. Best of luck and thank you for sharing your insights.
    Dan Kurtz

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