Category: 2016 Scholarship Entries

2016 Scholarship Entries

Noah’s Story

High school is an adjustment for most kids, but mine was compounded by my learning differences.  My sophomore year I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD,and then out no where, my Junior year I was faced with a diagnostic that changed my life. I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, ASD. To me it was a huge moment, a lot of things made sense to me, like why I had a hard time interacting socially, why it was harder to focus in school, and why sometimes I struggled reading social cues and reading expressions. While a lot made sense, I had a lot of questions too, like why I wasn’t diagnosed sooner, why can’t I interacted with other kids normally, and why other kids and teachers treated me differently. As I got more and more use to it,  I got very down on myself about it . However, although I had these questions, and uncertainty, I knew I couldn’t be held back by it.

When I was diagnosed, I thought that I would have to change everything in my life. I was focused on what I had to do to be “normal.” It took me time to realize that I didn’t have to change everything. I had autism before I knew I had it, that means that I didn’t have to change who I am because of it. Yes, it is a hurdle I have to jump over, but it doesn’t have to be a battle within myself. As I have learned more and more about ASD, I learn more about myself. Certain things I do, ways I do things make sense to me. I realized from reading Animals in Translation  by Temple Grandin, and in the book she describes the relationship between animals and people with autism. She describes that autistic people love deep pressure like tight belts, bracelets, deep hugs, and I related to that because I love things like that.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is not just a general diagnosis, it is a spectrum. I was diagnosed with being on the high end of the spectrum. Having a high functioning form of ASD means that I have more ability than some who who are lower functioning. This means that I can’t let it be a road block. I work harder in school, lacrosse, and to learn social skills, which has helped me develop a work ethic that fuels my drive to do the best I can in everything I do. In college, I want to study psychology, not only because it interests me, but also because I have an opportunity to help those who are like me. When I was first diagnosed, I struggled with it. I felt a lot of things, I felt like I wasn’t capable of overcoming it, and I felt like I was alone. I went to a few groups with kids who had the same diagnostic, and I felt like just participating was a helpful thing for, not only me, but them. I want to do the same thing for those who feel the same way as I did.

With both ASD and ADHD, I have struggled a lot with social skills, and making friends my whole life. When I was younger, other kids would think I was annoying and I didn’t know why. People told me I talked a lot, and did, but never knew how to stop. As I got older, I kept struggling, and I didn’t know why. So, I began to watch other kids interact with one another. I did this because I hoped that I could learn how to be more social and be accepted. By the time that I reached my junior year, and was diagnosed and  I told some adults and students, they told me that they wouldn’t have guessed from the way I interact that I struggle with social interaction.

I was told, when I was diagnosed, that some of the greatest minds probably had autism. That has stuck with me, and continues to motivate me.  It motivates me to do great things despite the fact I have autism. Having ASD has taught me many things about myself , and helped me discover who I am, but most importantly it has taught me how to face adversity, and create something good when there seems to be nothing good.

Sarah’s Story

My name is Sarah. I was diagnosed of being on the autism spectrum disorder in September 2016. Currently, I am the only Ph.D. student at my university who is registered to be on the autism spectrum disorder, among the 8000 graduate students. I want to finish my Ph.D. so I can help others on the spectrum get the highest qualification in the country.

Financial struggles

I am relieved to receive the diagnosis but autism has caused me to have many expenses that made me struggle financially. I do have regular income and a tuition waiver for teaching a biology laboratory course, so I can pay for food, rent and transportation. However, the student fees at my university cost $1500 and are a burden for my limited income. As an international student, I am not allowed to work outside of the university. My mother is autistic, so financial support from my family is out of question.

Under time limit

I urgently need more financial resources to pay for my autism counselor and communication trainer, so I can continue with my degree. This request is urgent because I failed my qualifying exams into the Ph.D. candidacy due to autism. I am allowed to take my exams again next year, but to succeed I need those resources to teach me to communicate. Those resources cost a lot of money.

Help me, so I can help others

Mr. Feldman and Mr. Royle, I have already written blogposts about the specific struggles of doing a Ph.D while being on the spectrum. In those posts, I also provide numerous solutions for those struggles. Your scholarship will free up financial resources not only to get help for myself, but also to help others. I have all information ready, except the money, to set up a website. With the website, I will be able to multiply these resources for all autistic persons who want to pursue a Ph.D. in the future.

I know that I have been able to help others on the autism spectrum even before I had my own diagnosis. An ex-roommate of mine who is on the spectrum, she got kicked out of two Ph.D. programs at my own university. I realized I could explain to her in ways that professors could not. My sister is on the spectrum; I am the person most patient with her in my family. I was able to explain to her how to take steps to improve her life.

Please help me quickly so I can help others quickly. When I could help my exroommate, she already had to leave the country. When I could help my sister, she already suffered from difficult employments for two decades.

The autistic future can be in biochemistry research

I am already two years into my Ph.D. program in biochemistry and have four years to go. I love to study protein, whether it is protein enzymology or protein function in an organism. Through my work, I have good initial results from my experiments on a specific protein. My results indicate I found the highest activity of that protein that has not been reported in science literature. I feel like many natural sciences appeal to young people on the autism spectrum, but except mathematics and physics, science at a higher level is still hard for people on ASD to break through. When I finish my Ph.D., I hope to be able to help my peers on the autism spectrum develop their careers in biology and chemistry.

Thank you for taking part in supporting autistic adults

Dr. Hans Asperger and Dr. Leo Kanner discovered the characteristics of autism 80 years ago. However, the help for autistic adults has just begun in the past two decades. The number of autistic adults who finished their PhDs is very limited. I currently face the challenge of disability cliff – special education is available up until a certain point, but then supporting resources disappear all of a sudden and I feel like I have nowhere to go. The breaking point is, from my perspective, the more workplace-like, communication-intensive Ph.D. programs at universities. Please consider helping me through, I will benefit many others who come after me.

Leah’s Story

Looking back on my years of education, I see how my Autism Spectrum Disorder has significantly affected my ability to learn in school. As I entered my first year of elementary school, I began to face many of the academic struggles that I would encounter throughout the five challenging years at the school. My earliest memory of struggling in school was when I was in a first grade math class. I was experiencing great difficulty in understanding and learning the math lessons that were taught in class. When the teacher would ask me a question about an equation, I would often reply, “I don’t know”, to the point where she would say “Yes you do know, Leah.”Her impatient response and lack of understanding was very traumaticto me, but I was too young to express how I felt.

Math wasn’t the only subject that brought many challenges to me. It seemed as though no matter what the class was, I struggled to keep up because it was too fast for me, so I had a hard time understanding the material and focusing during long lectures.  Even though I would try to bring my focus back to the teacher, I would often fall into the repetitive pattern of zoning out. This ongoing problem caused me to become very discouraged and frustrated. I soon gave up my efforts to listen and instead blankly stare out the window, thinking about the emotional relief I would experience during the last day of school.

At the same time of these difficulties, I was receiving Special Education services. Frequently, I would be dismissed from a class to attend a small group with my Case Manager. Afterward, I would come back to class aware of the incomplete worksheets that I had missedwhile I was gone.More anxiety and stress began to build inside me as I would continue to fall behind due to being pulled out of each class.The accumulation of my unspoken anxiety over time only caused more of it to increase inside of me, and I started feeling anxious whether I was at home or at school. I was too young at the time to express these feelings to my parents or teachers.

I continued toreceive Special Education services throughout the years at my elementary school with the ongoing uncompleted worksheets from each class. During each grade, the difficulties of paying attention for a long period of time in class and comprehending material given the fast pace stayed with me. I would get discouraged that my peers would seem to grasp the information while I couldn’t keep up. I was also overwhelmed with the work load of each class and struggled with comprehending instructions on worksheets and homework assignments. During math classes, my classmates would learn material so quickly that when they would be called on, they would talk on and on about how to solve a problem. The teacher would often respond: “You guys are so smart!” or “Are you the teacher in this class?” Those moments left me in pain as I kept thinking to myself, “What about me here?”

A memory that really stood out to me was when I was in fifth grade in social studies class. At the beginning of the school year I wanted to make a mental effort to try my hardest to catch the information from each class. For a few classes I tried my best to understand what the teacher as talking about, but it wasn’t long until I developed a headache from all the effort. It was then that I decided to give up again just as I did in the previous grades.

As I started middle school in sixth grade, things did not get any better for me. First of all, many of my friends from elementary school had moved to different schools, leaving me almost alone and struggling to socialize with students I didn’t know very well. It was very hard for me to think of what to say to my peers, along with starting conversations right away compared to others.  I also was experiencing low self-esteemdue to the rough transition to middle school, made it more difficult by my extreme shyness. The homework load increased along with my stress. My teachers seemed almost oblivious to my continuing academic struggles, and were stricter with students.

Thankfully in 2008, I was accepted into the first seventh grade class of a new local charter school which specialized in serving students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.I received a lot more support with friendlier teachers there than I had ever experienced in myelementary and middle schools. As I continued the following years at the school, the trauma and anxiety from teachers not listening to me started to fade.

Given the leadership skills and confidence I’ve gained from the school; I hope to volunteer in typical schools to help young students with disabilities facing similar experiences I’ve endured.

Briana’s Story

I have always viewed my uniqueness, Asperger’s, neurodivergence, and different abilities, as a gift!  When I was in second grade, I was tested for giftedness and the school administrators said I was not gifted because my IQ was only well above average, but not a full two standard deviations (the then requirement).  Back then, they did not have EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotients) tests or Asperger’s in the DSM yet.

Fast forward to later in my undergrad, I learned about EQ, got tested and come to find out I am an EQ genius, having tested almost perfect the first time, at about the same time Asperger’s was added to the DSM, and I got diagnosed.  I have always been out there!  Or, as I prefer to think, ahead of my time.  I made a video summing up how my uniqueness effected/affected my prior educational experiences leading up to my current educational pursuits and it can be seen at www.theperfectself.org, although the site as a whole is under construction.

Currently, having Asperger’s is the central focus of my graduate degree and plans for my doctoral education.  I am studying to be a Mental Health Counselor so I can support more Autistics to be experts of Autism.  The scholarly literature written by people with Autism about Autism compared to that written by people who do not claim to be Autistic is drastically different.  This is seen by many people in the Autistic community, and moreover the larger neurodiversity movement, as similar to black experts who are white writing about black life.  Sure, they have a perspective, but black people have lived experience!  The same goes for Autistics!

I have so much to share about the benefits of Autism and I love sharing!  I love to be the change I love to see as growth of the world.  I am working on raising funds and awareness for my social science research study focused mainly on EQ and Autism with plans to grow out to correlating more assessments and other diagnoses.  Most scholarly literature agrees Autistics have low EQ.  I am living proof this is false!  My seeming anomaly intrigued me, so I dug deeper.  This progress of my thoughts is a prime example of how my neurodivergent Aspie brain effects/affects my education.  I love figuring things out and solving problems, especially with shifts of perspective!  I found a prominent EQ assessment that is not a one size fits all, like most intelligence tests.  This one embraces the idea people have various equally valuable styles of expressing EQ, similar to the Myers-Briggs personalities concept.  I started correlating data and found people with Autism do not necessarily have any lower EQ scores than the general public, but that Autistics are more often the “rarer” styles on both this EQ model and the Myers-Briggs assessment.  Thus, Autistics are just less often the more “popular” styles and the one size fits all tests are based on the more “popular” styles.  My research is in its infancy and requires more data and analysis, but this ties completely in with comparing the neurodiversity model health to the medical model for mental health.  In general, the neurodiversity paradigm boils down to three fundamental principles:  1) “neurodiversity is a natural and valuable form of human diversity”; 2) there is not “one ‘normal’ or ‘healthy’ type of brain or mind, or one ‘right’ style of neurocognitive functioning” just as there is not “one ‘normal’ or ‘right’ ethnicity, gender”, culture or sexual orientation; and 3) neurodiversity social dynamics are parallel to the dynamics of ethnic, gender, sexual orientation or cultural diversity and when diversity is embraced it “acts as a source of creative potential” (Walker, 2015, Neurodiversity Paradigm).  More of my scholarly A+ writing about my research project can be found at www.tinyurl.com/eqpapers.

I am a rare type and yet I love to be accepted and embraced just like the more “popular” styles, especially rather than be shunned because of my rareness.  This has all led me to build and develop a practical analogy concerning this topic.  All my friends and family love my unique analogies as one of my gifted abilities.  The more “popular” styles are like the granite and limestone of the world.  Granite and limestone are the more prevalent rocks of the world.  We can build buildings with granite and limestone, whereas diamonds and other gemstones are rarer and these rocks are not conducive as building blocks for skyscrapers.  When the granite and limestone people evaluate the gemstone people solely on the ability to be a building block, the gemstones are cast out as dysfunctional.  However, for example, the key is diamonds can cut the granite and limestone and thus have a purpose and contribute to the building in an agreed different way than both the limestone and granite.  Even the monetary worth of each is the same, albeit the granite or limestone rock size may be bigger than the small rare diamond, the value of each is still equal.  We must stop claiming the rarer styles are dysfunctional because put simply only the act of claiming the dysfunction is essentially all that is dysfunctional.  As we embrace the value of the rareness, the false appearance of dysfunction always disappears.

Overall, I have always thought, felt, and practiced we each all have at least one thing to teach and learn from each other.  Also, my policy is it  is all of our duties to always each figure out our things to learn and teach and then share those with as many people as possible so that we may all each grow and progress as a competent society.  As a result, my Autism has not only effected/affect my education of me, but also my education of others by all the ways explained here, plus so much more.

Autism is the central focus of my graduate degree and plans for my doctoral education.  I am studying to be a Mental Health Counselor so I can support more Autistics to be experts of Autism.  The scholarly literature written by people with Autism about Autism compared to that written by people who do not claim to be Autistic is drastically different.  This is seen by many people in the Autistic community, and moreover the larger neurodiversity movement, as similar to black experts who are white writing about black life.  I love to be the change I love to see as growth of the world!

Veronica’s Story

Ever since I was a very little girl, I always had learning challenges.  When I was 2 years old, I went to a special education school not far from my house.  I remember riding the bus and how it was really fun.  The teachers were always nice to me.  I was told I had a language delay.  It was very hard for me to get my words out as I interacted with others.  I still have trouble with my words.

When I was 5 years old, because of the delay, which was now called an auditory processing disorder, I did not go to kindergarten but stayed at my school for a “gap” type year called the 5-year-old program.  It was the following year I went to the local elementary school.

Elementary school was hard and there were some very nice teachers but there were some who didn’t want to help me as much as the others.  I was different than the other kids and had a hard time being just like the other kids.  Some teachers felt troubled by me being in their class and didn’t help me with what I needed. Sometimes I was bullied and I remember only 2 kids from school came to my 7th birthday party.  My parents and my family were still very supportive of me.  By then, they called what I had auditory processing disorder with a social delay.  Still I participated in the walking club, the chorus, and the drama club.  I also participated in the yearly science fair and even won honorable mention once.  It was that summer I started with the swim team at our local pool.  It was when I was in elementary school, that my parents learned my little brother had Autism Spectrum Disorder.  His autism was so severe that he had what was called an intellectual disability.

Middle school was a hard transition. But still I had incredible teachers who really supported me and helped me to be successful.  I still sang in the Chorus but was also a member of the Cultural Ambassador club, Art Club, National Junior Honor Society, Show Choir, Drama Club and volunteered in the school library as well.  I still participated in Science fair too.  I also managed to stay on the honor roll.  There were still some targeted Bullying incidents.  I was very proud of my middle school years.

In high school, 9th grade was hard to adjust as my school had two campuses.  During the school day, I had to ride the bus from the annex to the main building for my Chorus class.  I also had a tutorial class for students like myself with I.E.P.s. Unfortunately, the adult supervision was lacking in that classroom and I was the victim of more bullying.  But I was one of the only freshmen to work the stage crew for the school musical.  I was on the swim team and earned a varsity letter.  It was during 9th grade that I finally had the official statement of autism, specifically Asperger’s syndrome.  This was and is very hard for me as I think autism applies to my brother who is so much more severe.

10th grade was much better as I was at the main campus for the full day.  I finally became more comfortable with the high school experience.  I was again involved with the school musical and continued with the Chorus as well as varsity swim team.  I also joined art club.  Later in the school year I was inducted into the Tri-M Music Honor Society.  I also was installed in an achievement/social club called “Ladies with Class.”  I also joined the best-buddies club.  This group matched high school students with children who had serious and severe disabilities for various activities.  This was a very rewarding experience because even though I have challenges, I was and am able to help others who have more needs than I do.

11th grade was challenging as I now moved on from the “co-taught” classes of 9th and 10th grade.  Those classes had two teachers in the room to assist students with special needs, but in 11th grade those classes were no longer offered so I struggled but still managed to do fairly well.  In addition to continuing my clubs and classes, I was inducted into the National Honor Society and also began my work with the school’s morning announcements/TV broadcast, “The Bulldog Bulletin.”

Now as a senior, I am now in my second year of child growth and development where I assist with childcare at the school.  I also am continuing in my pro-start class where I am focusing on culinary skills.  I keep up with my clubs, chorus, and swimming and just finished my work on the stage crew for the school musical.  I am looking forward to finishing high school and beginning the next chapter of my life.

I have learned that even though folks have sometime been unkind, there is never an excuse for me to be unkind.  I try to look out for those who are in need and I always try to offer help.  I have learned to be patient and also try not to give up on things.  When things do seem a little too much for me, I always try to seek out help.  I have come to really rely on the help and support of my family and the many people who look out for me and love me.  Most importantly, I have learned that I am more than just a label – much more.

Aaron’s Story

My life started off normal just like everyone else’s life. I was normal, healthy, and average. However, at the age of 3, my parents noticed that I behaved and acted different than other kids my age. When I was 5, I was homeschooled because I was so out of control in Kindergarten that the staff at the school said I wasn’t ready for school. My mother took me to several different places to get me evaluated and see why I was acting and behaving differently and that was when I was diagnosed with Autism. From there, my mother read dozens of books to see what she could do to help me before first grade started.

When first grade came along, I was given an IEP and put into a special education class. I was still out of control, and I had to be put in “care holds” to keep from hurting other people and myself. I was pinned to the ground and my arms were held behind me so I couldn’t move and I wasn’t released until the teacher and student aides thought I was calmed down. I was still very intelligent, though. In first grade, I could read on a fourth grade level and I was one of the top students in my special education class. As second grade came along, the care holds and mayhem continued and it wasn’t until third grade that I was allowed to be in mainstream classes.

In third grade, I no longer needed to be in a care hold because I had learned to control my anger and frustration from my mother and several different psychologists. Although I was in class, I was a social outcast and I had no real friends because I did not understand how to socialize with other people. This continued on to middle school, where I started to grow up and learn how to socialize more from my doctor’s appointments. In middle school, teachers tested my educational level and told me I could read on college level, I was great at math, had near-perfect English skills, and had great knowledge with science.

The biggest change in my life was when I moved from Arizona to Kentucky halfway through seventh grade, which was very hard for me because having ASD made me struggle with changes in my schedule. In my new school, I was often made fun of because people did not understand me and the things I said. In eighth grade, the name calling and being made fun of continued. However, I had another major change when I graduated from the Impact program, a program designed to teach social skills and behavioral control to teens. I was determined to go to high school next and give it everything I had and work with my Autism.

In high school, I used my Autism to my advantage and became very interested, almost to the point of obsession, in everything I did in school. This worked well for me, and I am a top student in my classes. Through all this, however, because of my ASD, I still found myself struggling with social situations, and in my freshman year of high school, this led to bullying. I had grown tired of the bullying and I decided to stay silent and become invisible in school my first year of high school.

I wasn’t very happy that year, so I took up something I thought I would enjoy to help me feel happier my next year. In my sophomore year of high school, I took up weight lifting, and I was very good at it. I continued to keep my grades at a 4.0 level and I started to socialize more with people I knew were like me, and I formed a group of friends. I was very happy that year and in my junior year, I befriended even more people and became a great friend to hang out with. It was my junior year that I decided what I wanted to do most; to get a good ACT score.

I was determined to go to a four year university, and to get accepted, I needed a good ACT score. Because of my ASD, I was allowed extended test time on certain tests. However, when I took the test the first time, I did not have extended time and I struggled to finish the ACT on time. My score was 21. This made me disappointed, because I knew I could do better. I took the ACT again a few months later with extended test time and got a 26, which was a great score. All my years of working past my Autism worked, and I couldn’t be happier. Next was my senior year of high school, where I am at right now, and applying for colleges.

As my senior year was about to start, I learned all I could about accommodations I could get while in college from a 3 day college trip I took over the summer. I went to Eastern Kentucky University and learned all I could and decided that it was my top choice for college. I have had a very strong interest in forensic science for 3 years, and this is what I want to major in. EKU has an amazing program for that. I have applied there and been accepted recently, so my journey is beginning! I can’t wait to go there and use my Autism to take part in learning all I can and being a great college student. This is a huge step in life that took hard work to get to, but through it all, I learned to work with my ASD in a proper manner.

I am very excited to start college, and then after that, my career. My future is bright and I will focus on everything one phase at a time. I have learned that a rough start does not always mean a terrible finish.

Benjamin’s Story

Being diagnosed with Asperger’s later in my academic life, at the age of 12, had a traumatic impact on my education.  However, once I received an explanation for my horrendous transition intoMiddleSchool, it empowered me to be an even better student then I already was.  It was during this time when my world as I knew it, was turned upside down.  I could not comprehend why my peers and friends were adjusting and loving their experience.  All that changed was going from one wing of the school building to the other.  But for me, I changed as a person.  I could not wrap my head around what was transpiring.  I felt overwhelmed by the eight teacher personalities I had to deal with; the eight new classrooms; the eight subjects to juggle; and the eight notebooks to carry.  I cried everyday going to school and cried everydaycoming out.What had happened to my care-free, happy, successful academic life thus far?  I still achieved all A’s and B’s despite the turmoil I was in.  With all that turmoil in such a young life, I had to withdraw from school halfway through the 6th grade.  That is when my grandfather, a retired school teacher and Elementary School principal and my Mom homes schooled me for five months.  During this time, it took many doctors, psychiatristsand therapists to figure me out.  One year of wring diagnosis’s, wrong medicines and wrong advice.  As my anxiety became manageable, I was able to participate in home instruction with my schooldistrict in the 7thgrade.  I finally returned back to a state of academic/personal normalcy in the 8th grade.  But I never gave up – I loved to learn and loved school despite all that happened to me in my young life.  It took lots of perseverance, resilience and strength through those years of upheaval.  Once I understood that I was born this way and it was the way I always me, I gradually accepted all that I had been through.  That is when I started my road to recovery.  It made me more determinedthan ever to be flourish educationallyand bring a new face to Asperger’s.

Despite all the progress I made to get my life back on track, I still felt a little unsure when going to high school.  However, my highschool made me feel part of the community again.  This was all accomplished with the support of my family, many of my teachers and staff, as well as my friends.  They bolstered my self-confidence and encouraged me to delve into extracurricular activities.  This helped me to further develop and grow personally and become a more well-rounded individual.  I became involved in such clubs as the Strategist Club, Math League and the Computer Honor Society.  These challenges have taught me academics alone do not define you as a person.  It is being well-rounded and helping others that grows character.  I even went outside my comfort zone and joined a local Youth Ministry Group to help the local community.  As far as academics are concerned, I accumulated a 3.9 GPA and scored a 1,360 on my SATs in my Junior year.  I was also given a prestigious honor of being inducted into my school’s local chapter of the National Honor Society.  I was even recognized by the College Board as 1 of 3 National Hispanic Scholars at my High School.

I would hope that briefly telling my story helps others by demonstrating to them that despite having a disability and having challenges in life, you can be successful.  This would not have been possible for me without my experiences thus far at my High School.  I believe that having Asperger’s has been a true catalyst in building back my character and allowing me to believe in myself and tackle any academic challenge I may encounter in higher education.

Kerry’s Story

Imagine not being able to tell the people that you care about the most about your basic needs growing up. This used to be my story…

When I was diagnosed with autism at 4 I was just starting Pre-K. It was one of the most difficult transitions of my life. Ever since my diagnosis, I knew I was special although it wasn’t until I was 11 that I learned I had an Autism Spectrum Disorder in Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).

During my academic career I’ve dealt with many challenges in the school systems. One of those first challenges had to do with speech. I was completely nonverbal until I was 2.5 and didn’t start saying my first few words until I was 3. I wouldn’t start speaking in complete sentences until I was 5. Along the way I’d also have challenges with expressive and receptive language disorder, severe sensory integration dysfunction, auditory processing disorder, twirling, dysgraphia (a handwriting disorder), motor challenges, anxiety and emotional issues due to my lack of speech.

Added to this laundry list of challenges was being a victim of bullying. When I was in public school until 4th grade I was in a special need setting of students ranging in ages of 6-14. Along with being extremely shy due to my lack of speech, I would be bullied by my classmates because I was one of the youngest kids in our classes. My peers who weren’t in special education used to call us the ‘retarded class’ while when I was mainstreamed in mathematics in 4th grade I was given the name ‘Captain retarded’ because I was one of the only students with a disability to be mainstreamed.

For so long I wanted to quit school because I thought no one would ever understand me or want to be my friend due to my autism diagnosis. When I transitioned to private school and found out about having autism for the first time, I researched about how I could use my autism as strength. One of those strengths involved honing in on my key interests. This led me to thinking about one of my first key interests I ever had in basketball. I could tell you all 30 NBA basketball teams and most of the players on those teams. I turned that key interest into finding friends in school while also losing over 60 pounds to play basketball for my school team.

I turned learning about my key interests in school to finding ways to motivate myself to do well in my academics. This started with self-reflection exercises and later into reward systems (i.e. 1 hour of homework would lead to 15 minutes of playing NBA 2K on PlayStation). This has been of the biggest triggers for me today being able to graduate from high school, graduating with my undergraduate degree, receiving my masters and getting accepted into a doctoral program.

Now after being able to say that I’ve overcame many of my obstacles for the past 6 years I’ve traveled the country speaking at almost 700 events about autism, disabilities, story-telling, innovation, and bullying prevention. One of my favorite talks I give today though is to educators called “Teach the way our students learn.” Autism is a spectrum disorder and while I’ve been truly blessed in my life, as someone who used to be on the severe end of the spectrum to someone who is now on the less severe end, if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve truly met just that, one person with autism. I educate our educators today that when we establish a rapport with our students, and find what they love to do and help them harness that passion, we can help them succeed.

Along the route of public speaking I’ve been able to hold a full-time job for the past 3 and a half years, write 2 best-selling books, consult on several disability-related films to bring a realistic portrayal of disabilities to our entertainment industry, to start a nonprofit organization that’s given 34 scholarships to students with autism for college and to accept a job as a local talk show host highlighting stories of people with disability, disease and overcoming obstacles. I also recently moved into my first apartment post-college and have been able to thrive through many vocational skills that I once found challenging growing up. In my spare time, as someone who grew up not knowing anyone who was on the spectrum to look up too, I now mentor high school students on the spectrum to help them transition to adulthood whether it be housing, employment, and/or postsecondary

To continue my education receipt of financial aid is imperative to see my dreams of becoming an educator become possible. After graduating with my doctoral degree in 2019 I hope to become an adjunct professor at the post-secondary level to educate students about the amazing abilities students in our disability community have.

I cannot thank Feldman & Royle, Attorneys at Law, PPLC for making this scholarship available for our community. We have a saying in our community that it ‘takes a village’ for our loved ones to succeed. Thanks to your support, these amazing students on the spectrum will be able to receive support so they can continue their education. In the future, after paying off my education bills I plan on paying it forward with a donation to help further benefit your scholarship program.

The final words I say when I finish any talk are something that I wanted to share here. Growing up in school I said that autism had hindered my education. Now today in school I say that autism is just one of the many parts of making me who I am. I now say that ‘Autism can’t define me. I define autism.’ Thank you for helping define our community and doing what you do.

Harry’s Story

I have always visualized the world in a variance of contrasts atypical of my peers. While many were preoccupied with video games, I was interested in numbers, ideas, and configurations that I saw within my small world.  I saw the world in complex equations and would often ask questions or make comments that my grandmother coined as “Harryisms.” One could say that in my short life thus far I have overcome obstacles and solved nuisances that have been of inconvenience. However, I feel that I have many more mountains to climb in the future where I will be victorious as a result of the lessons I have learned. I would like to take this opportunity to present an essay about what I have learned from these “difficulties.” and on the incredible fortunes I have been granted that assist in sustaining my existence and entice my inquiries into the exploration of learning.

When I was 5 years old, I was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome and was found to be somewhere along the autism spectrum as a result of my unique social perspectives and infatuation with numbers and math.  As I grew up, I was forced to overcome the obstacles presented by these two disabilities.  Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder in which a person repeatedly makes involuntary movements or sounds known as tics. Commonly, people will make fun of others with this disability because they do not understand. Growing up with Tourette syndrome was difficult because I didn’t know how to explain the compulsive movements I was making to others. People saw me as different and that was exactly how I felt. In addition, the social tension I felt was compounded by the fact that I had Asperger syndrome which is a disorder that affects one’s ability to socialize and communicate with others.  Of course, I did not understand what either of these disabilities were. All I knew was that I had them. I decided to then learn about these things instead of letting them define me.

I remember having a conversation with my mother when I was in elementary school about why I was considered a person with a disability? I could not wrap my head around the idea that I could in some way be disabled when I did well in school, I spoke utilizing high vocabulary, performed advanced math calculations in my head, walked, ran, could see, and had no problem hearing the world around me. As she began to explain the ins and outs of Autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorders, difficulties in social reciprocity, and how my all too familiar neck tics occurred when I was lost in intellectual thought – I could not help but be perplexed. My response to my mother that day was, “. . . So let me get this straight, what they call my disability is what gives me my ability?” She looked at me, smiled and simply said, “Yeah, they are your amazing abilities.” I don’t think I knew it at the time, but I believe that this was a defining moment for me. I was unique and I would not be defined by what a piece of paper stated as a weakness when I very well knew that the societal definition of disability had erred in its wordy and scrambled adjectives of description. I was not a disabled person. I was a highly intelligent human being who could relate to the struggles of other individuals and was blessed with unique gifts that I decided long ago would be used to research, inquire, question and solve.

In fourth grade, I realized that the other kids didn’t like me because they were ignorant. Xenophobia is propelled by difference and fueled by an ignorance of that difference. They didn’t understand why I acted the way I did and I wasn’t able to explain it to them. Initially I reacted with animosity and hatred, but I soon realized this approached didn’t solve my problem. I decided to learn about Asperger syndrome and Tourette syndrome. This way if others asked me why I acted a certain way or why I made certain movements I’d be able to explain it to them. This approach seemed to work and over the next two years I gained a lot of self-respect and began to feel less like a social outcast.

Socialization has always been an obstacle for me. However, on the first day of eighth grade, my science teacher had a class discussion about the possibility of life existing elsewhere in the universe. I couldn’t exactly explain why but I had always found something fascinating about chemistry, astronomy, and science in general. Thus, I found the topic especially interesting and was compelled to speak up. Compelled is probably an understatement. I believe I burst into a rapid explanation on theories discussed by Stephen Hawking and rambled on in entropy,   surrounding Second Law of Thermodynamic.

The response from my fellow classmates was somewhat unexpected. As the bell rang and I was walking out people came up to me saying stuff like, “Wow, you’re really smart.” I had found something that I was not only good at but something I excelled at and could be proud of. It gave me confidence and provided a platform on which I could express my thoughts, inquire about my curiosities, and collaborate with others. Ever since I have found science and knowledge very empowering. If I may quote from one of my own, younger, Harryisms: “You know what?  In 1 year there are 12 months, 365 days, 8,760 hours, 525,600 minutes, 31,536,00 seconds. It is my hope to fund my college education and fill each of those seconds with prolific learning and research opportunities.

Tim’s Story

I’m currently a sophomore at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. Hamline is a small, private, liberal arts college with about 2,500 undergraduate students. I went to a high school about the same size, and both environments have been interesting places to live, considering that I have autism. The 21st century is a very interesting and eventful time to be alive, especially in the past couple of years. The political, societal, and technological shifts in our world are changing the way people connect with each other all over the world. People are able to access information so much more quickly than ever before. I don’t understand some of these changes, (and I’m sure there are other people who don’t as well). In my experience, having autism has mainly been about learning how to communicate with others.

My major is Global Studies and my minor is Communications, and I’m planning to gain more knowledge about our global community by studying abroad in Germany in my junior year. I’m looking forward to getting a feeling of what the culture is like in a country that is one of the United States’ closest allies and partners in the world. I’ve taken a little over four years of German, and I’m incredibly excited about getting the chance to see how people in another country communicate and to explore a little bit of German culture. I think that traveling abroad in Germany will improve how I communicate with people in both different countries and in the United States. I think that communicating across the many different cultures of the world is a necessary skill, particularly in a world that has countries and their citizens becoming more and more interdependent in relation to each other.

Since I’ve been learning more about myself and as I’ve been becoming more self-aware, I’ve been picking up many different social signs in some of my interactions with my peers since when I was in middle school or early high school. I’ve always found it easier to talk and have a conversation with adults, as opposed to my peers. From my perspective, it sometimes seems like my generation is having a lot of trouble connecting with people, as my peers are often so absorbed in their own electronics, and traditional conversationalists are left to their own devices, so to speak. I’ve been continuously getting involved on campus and not shying away into isolation when things get tough. I also believe that there’s a difference between someone who is nice and someone who is friendly. Waving or smiling at someone that a person doesn’t know, that can easily brighten someone else’s day. I think that being kind to people that one doesn’t know, that isn’t something that seems very common. I think that being genuinely kind to others in some cases, it represents the knowledge that someone exists, and I think that can be very valuable to many people.

Lastly, among my varied interests, I’m also an avid photographer. I believe that having autism allows me to see the world through a different lens…literally. I see moments in our world that can only be seen once. In other words, no instruments on a camera could make the camera be in exactly the right position or have the right settings to capture a photo, exactly as I see it. In many ways, I think that is something very special about life, and I think that through the many different kinds of lenses, many different photographs or snapshots can be taken. Living through a moment, in it’s purest forms, is something that’s a valuable skill that I don’t think is enjoyed enough, particularly by Millennials, the generation that likely has the most experience in this age of the beginning of digital communication.

Finally, I’d like this part of my application to convey what I hope to achieve as time goes on and as I continue my education beyond college. Change, like education, is something that can be achieved, but not necessarily completed, no matter how long or hard one works toward a certain goal. That goal can be completed, but it seems like there’s always something else to shoot for after that, there’s always something else to learn from an experience. In that sense, I believe that if one knows that, they always have an open mind, they keep asking questions about the things that they don’t understand, then they’ll know and they’ll have learned about what education means in their life.