The will of opportunity — the path of autism to college | Kerry Magro | TEDxJerseyCity

The will of opportunity — the path of autism to college | Kerry Magro | TEDxJerseyCity

August 14, 2019 8 By Stanley Isaacs


Translator: Beatriz dos Santos Morimoto
Reviewer: Denise RQ How is everyone doing? I’m very glad to be here today. So, I have a personal story
I want to share with all of you today. When I was just a baby – as you can see through the adorable
baby photos on the right here – when I was four years old
I was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental
Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) For a lot of people I’m sure
you really don’t know what that is, but it is a form of autism. So, when I was four
I was diagnosed with autism, and I had a lot of challenges. I had severe sensory integration issues, I had communication issues, I had social issues, and until I was two and a half
I was also non-verbal. I’ve certainly come a long way, but one of the big things
about autism today in our community is that autism is seen, so many times, as a diagnosis for children. It’s focused on… So much of everything you see on television and in the press
is about children, it’s about getting – it got louder –
children getting diagnosed, it’s about interventions, it’s about a wide range
of difficulties with them. But why I’m here to tell you about today
is that autism is much more than that. Autism is a life long disability and today there is
a lot of hope in our community. There are individuals, such as myself,
who are now adults with autism, who are paving the way
for our community today. And we certainly have come a long way. My personal story starts when I was four, when I was diagnosed. Because of all my difficulties,
because of my issues, I really didn’t know
where I was going to be when I became an adult. I didn’t have many aspirations as a kid because of the amount
of services I had to go through. But because of where I came, and because of my supports
I was able to become an adult, I was able to go to college. That’s something
really no one thinks about a lot of the time
when you think about autism; you don’t think of autism,
and you don’t associate it with college. But I here to tell you today that not only
was I able to graduate from college with a degree in Business Administration and then also get a Master’s
in Strategic Communications to give presentations
like I’m giving today but I have found that there are
so many more individuals who are getting to college,
who are doing these things. And today I’m happy to say I have a full-time job with
the National Organization Autism Speaks. I have been able to not only go to get
a Master’s in Strategic Communications but also get to travel the country
as a national motivational speaker, talking about autism awareness, talking about disability awareness. And it’s given me the opportunity
to do things in Jersey City that I never thought
I would have done when I was a kid. Just a month ago,
we were with Tommy Hilfiger in Jersey City
at the Golden Door Film Festival and my autism advocacy
has really come to the point where I want to become an advocate
for those who are going to college, who are adults in our community. So, college was one
of the biggest dreams I ever had. And the theme of this brave new world is that there are individuals
with autism going to college. And one of my earliest dreams
was to get to college. And when I was in high school,
during my senior year, that was the goal. My parents applied me
to 15 different colleges, we wanted to get into somewhere. And when the first letters
started coming in, we were just on pins and needles, not really knowing what to expect, and when the first letter came in, it took us three days to open
the letter, we were just like: “OK, we’re not opening this,
we’re going to wait as long as possible.” And when the first letter
came in, I got accepted. I got accepted into my first choice,
which was Seton Hall University. That was it, that’s all we really need. We were just really thrilled
to get into some place. So, we got into Seton Hall
and then as my senior year went along, the rest of the 14 other letters came in, and by the end of the senior year,
I got accepted into all 15 colleges. Thank you. (Applause) And it just went to show that not only was I able to accomplish
my dream of getting into college but there was someone
out there who believed in me to the point where they could see me
succeeding in college. That’s why I want to see
for so many individuals with autism today. So, when we think of dreams,
what do we think of? For me, like I said, one of my earliest
dreams was to get to college. So, when I got to college
I became an advocate. It was the first time – I progressed so much as a kid,
no one really knew I had autism, no one really understood that: “This kid can’t have autism,
he’s in college, he’s speaking, he’s going out to parties,
he’s doing all this. It’s like how, how is this possible?
How could this be someone with autism?” And that’s when I came out
to my pears for the first time, telling them that I am on autism spectrum. And by sharing my story,
I was able to educate and really try to make a difference
for those with autism. Now, what is autism? I’ve talked a lot about
how I’m on autism spectrum, but autism today is a social
and communication disorder that affects a wide range of individuals. And the one big thing about autism
is that autism is a life long disability. It’s staggering the numbers
today of autism. If you’ve read any of the statistics,
you may know that currently in our society 1 in 68 are affected
by autism in the United States It has become a huge,
huge epidemic in our society, and it’s something
we all need to really look at because autism isn’t going away
in our society. We are 1 in 68 who have autism
in the United States which is over 3 million individuals – which is 1% of our population – and then we have
over 70 million individuals who have autism across the world. So, autism is in our society
and it is not going anywhere anytime soon. New Jersey, where we live, we currently have the highest prevalence
of autism in the country: 1 in 45 individuals being diagnosed. If any of you have heard
about autism in New Jersey, we have some of the best supports, and we’re able to get some
of the best diagnoses for our kids, which is a big reason why we think
the numbers are the best here because we are making sure that these kids aren’t falling
through the cracks. So, because of the numbers of autism, autism has become
a hot topic in our society. Autism is everywhere in our society. It’s in films, it’s in TV, it’s in books, it’s basically everywhere you go. You really can’t find a place
where you’re not hearing about autism, whether it’s from a co-worker,
a pear, etc and so fourth. It’s everywhere in our society. And some of the biggest
autism advocates we have today, you may have heard names
such as Dr Temple Grandin, who had the HBO film about her life
called “Temple Grandin”. And then there is other individuals
like John Elder Robison, who had a New York Times
best selling novel, and then just recently in the news, I don’t know if anyone
has been seeing this, but Jerry Seinfeld also believes
that he is on the autism spectrum. So, you really can’t – There are so many celebrities today, and it just goes to show you how wide
and how big a topic autism has become. And with the autism numbers, one of the other big things
we have right now is that autism
in adults is growing rapidly. We currently have 500,000 individuals with autism who are going to reach
adulthood within the next decade. That just goes to show you that these kids are going
to be reaching adulthood, and they are going to need supports but also, at the same time, colleges are going to be
a possibility for some. The other staggering statistic
which I usually talk to people about, is the fact that in our community autism – There is really not that many
opportunities for employment, most individuals with autism are
under-employed or not employed at all. And that goes to show that if we can’t get more supports
in colleges for these kids with autism, then the possibilities
for jobs, the possibility– because I mean, our economy right now– just everyone is having
a tough time looking for a job, not only individuals with autism. So, if we are able to get those supports,
the possibilities are endless. My personal story goes to show you
how rapidly autism is increasing. When I was diagnosed with autism in 1992, the numbers of autism
were 1 in every 5,000; today it’s 1 in 68. It just goes to show
autism isn’t going anywhere, and in the next few years
we don’t know what the numbers will be; 1 in 40, 1 in 20? Every couple of years
the numbers just keep increasing, so we need to be ready for these kids. Obviously, college doesn’t come easy.
It takes a lot of work. And that starts with early interventions
and supports for these individuals. It starts with early
interventions and supports, it starts with getting
these kids a proper diagnosis, and learning the signs
of autism as early as possible. By learning the signs
of autism as early as possible, we are able to get these kids a diagnosis, we are able to get them support
and then we are able to get them services, so when they go into school
they have the proper IEP, they have the proper programs
the same place where they can thrive. Early intervention
is the key for these kids. Being able to support them
and then also give them the right supports throughout
their entire academy process is really a key for getting them there. One of the other things
about autism in the school is that autism for many is a 24/7 job. When you look at autism
today in our society, you can see that with the supports,
with the services, many of these individuals
have to go through ongoing process: everything from ABA to physical therapy, to occupational therapy,
the speech therapy. Most kids go nine to three in school. It’s just nine to three, but for many
with autism, it’s after school. It’s going into the summer, it’s literally just every single day,
you really have to work at it. And that’s what I had to do
when I was a kid. When I was just a baby… When I did start gaining speech, it was still a long road ahead of me
to get me to where I am today. And because of that, I had really two of the best coaches
I could have asked for, and that starts with my mom and dad. My mom was probably the saint who really came in to make sure
that all the dreams I wanted to accomplish,
including college, came true. My mom started with
the Board of Education in Jersey City because she saw that there is
such a limit on these kids, kids with special needs. And one of the best quotes
that my mom has ever talked about is that my mom came into the Jersey City
Public School System to help her kid and then she stayed for almost 19 years
to help everyone else’s. And she’s been a godsend
along with my dad – both of them are in the audience today – and because of their support, I’ve really been able to accomplish
many of my dreams today. So, with autism, because of my diagnosis, we were really trying to get me
the best supports possible. One of the best supports
that came to me was when I was able to go out of district. When I was able to go out of district, I was able to, for the first time,
really get the supports I needed, the services I needed,
and it helped me tremendously. I went to public school
from 1st to 4th grade, and then, from 5th to high school I was in a school for kids
with learning disabilities out of district, at a school
called Community Laurel School and then Community High School. And this is where I got
to really focus on my key interest. These schools were focused on giving you
the opportunity to succeed, but they also wanted you to focus
on the things you are passionate about. 2 of my greatest passions, as you can see,
were drama and basketball. And I took those aspirations,
and I took those key interests to get me to point where I am today,
where I could thrive with my autism but also understand how my key interest, if I was able to put passion
in these certain things that I could also put passion
into other things, like school work
and trying to get to college, and that really helped along the way. Basically, what I’m trying
to get at with college for autism is that through the entire process
– it’s an ongoing process – we need early intervention, we need
supports for these kids in school, we need the therapies
they need to succeed, but once they get to college, once these individuals
have the opportunity to get to college, we need to make sure
that colleges understand what autism is, because right now college
and autism are basically– just very, very little is being done
in terms of awareness. So, this is broken down
into having mentoring, it’s focused on having
autism awareness at colleges, it’s focused on having
services for these kids. It’s focused on making sure
disability support services understand what autism is and how
they can help these individuals. And that all starts with sharing
the stories of these individuals. Sharing not only my story
but the stories of individuals, the 500,000 individuals
who will be reaching adulthood. For these individuals,
who will be reaching college, being able to share their stories, being able to share the possibilities, gives unlimited amount of potential
to spread awareness for these supports and ideally, to help the future generations of Kerry Magros
with autism to succeed in college. Like I said, in college
I became the advocate. I became the advocate who wanted
to really see people with autism succeed. And I spread awareness, I started spreading awareness,
basically on my first day when I was at Seton Hall
and after that experience, I just wanted to educate my pears
more and more on autism every single day. And that’s really what I wanted to do
once I got out college as well because I saw the lack of awareness and the lack of acceptance
for autism in my pears. And by trying to educate
those individuals, I wanted to educate the individuals
in my work place, I wanted to educate the individuals
in our Jersey City community on what autism was and made sure
that people understand what potential there was
for individuals with autism today. So, in college, because of my supports, and because of wanting
to became an advocate, I started the first
student organization on my campus called Student Disability Awareness for kids with all different
types of disabilities. What I wanted to do was, I wanted to break down the barriers
for individuals with disabilities, who have gone through any ignorance, or any bullying, or any type of lack
of awareness in their lives. So, I started SDA, the first student
organization for kids with disabilities, and that paved the way
to start my nonprofit organization. I started an organization
called KFM Making a Difference, where I was able to give out scholarships
for individuals to go to college. And so far, we’ve given out seven scholarships
since we started in fall 2012. We’ve just have our first graduate,
who graduated from Wisconsin-Whitewater with a dual major
in Political Science and Business. So, it just goes to show you not only
was I able to get through college but also all these individuals
who are on an autism spectrum are pursuing their dreams. And it’s not only in New Jersey, we’ve have winners from Wisconsin,
Los Angeles, Detroit, all these individuals are going
to college and they are succeeding. And it just goes to show you
how wide our spectrum is for autism, it’s just, how many people
are doing amazing things. “So, finally,” – said a mouthful
about autism during this presentation – one of the big things I want to say
is in this brave new world college is going to be possible
for individuals with autism. It’s not going to be for
every single individual with autism – because autism is a wide spectrum, there are individuals
who are high functioning, there are more who are low functioning – but for individuals like me, for individuals like the 500,000
who will be reaching adulthood, we need to see college
as a possibility for these individuals because at the end of the day, one of the big things I say is:
autism doesn’t define my life. I define autism. And for these individuals, these individuals
who are going to college today, we are defining autism in college. And that’s a beautiful, beautiful thing
to see in this brave new world. Thank you so much. (Applause)