Photo by Kelly White
Evergreen Park School District 124 hosted a Nov. 5 presentation by award-winning disability advocate Kerry Magro to help students, staff members, parents and caregivers better understand the autism spectrum.
By Kelly White
Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological and developmental disorder that begins early in childhood and lasts throughout a person's life. It affects how a person acts and interacts with others, communicates and learns.
Helping students, staff members, parents and caregivers better understand the autism spectrum was Evergreen Park School District 124 through a presentation by award-winning disability advocate Kerry Magro on Nov. 5.
“ I was the kid who experts said would never graduate from high school,” Magro said. “Autism can’t define me. I define autism.”
The presentations were given throughout the school day to students and staff members in all five of the district’s schools, with a concluding presentation for parents and caregivers given in the evening at the Evergreen Park School District 124 Administration Office, 2929 W. 87 th St., Evergreen Park.
“ I just think he is someone who is going to really connect with our community,” said Dr. Robert Machak, superintendent of Evergreen Park School District 124. “ Our teachers and staff are working really hard to better understand trauma-informed practices and to learn how social, emotional, cultural, and societal factors impact our students' learning in school. Mr. Magro's message is ultimately a positive, uplifting one. We are all different and differently-abled. Mr. Magro doesn't shy away from these differences, he celebrates them.”
Magro was non-verbal as a child until almost 3 years old. He was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) a form of autism, at age 4. Because of this, Magro suffered through years of being teased, bullied, and basically being disregarded at school by his teachers, and yet, he has succeeded.
“ I realized I had autism when I was 11-and-a-half years old, but right after I did, I immediately wanted to learn more about my strengths and challenges,” Magro said.
After countless hours of therapy and the support of a loving family, Magro has conquered many of his life challenges.
Now as an adult, Magro is a professional speaker, best-selling author of two books, "Defining Autism From The Heart," "Autism and Falling in Love," and the author of the children’s book, "I Will Light It Up Blue!" He is a movie consultant for two films, "Joyful Noise," and "Jane Wants A Boyfriend." He is a non-profit founder who has given over 50 scholarships for students with autism to attend college.
In 2014, he received accreditation from the National Speakers Association as one of the only professionally certified speakers with autism in the country. His mission is to share his inspirational story to help others and to eliminate negative stereotypes surrounding the autism spectrum. In the past seven years, Magro has spoken at more than 785 events about his journey on the autism spectrum.
Among many other accomplishments, Magro has also worked on the social media campaign for season one of "The Good Doctor "and "Atypical."
“ I think that every student, teacher, administrator, and parent who hears Mr. Magro's presentation is going to benefit from it,” Machak said. “For me, I'm most excited to learn more about how to make our schools more accessible and more engaging for students who, like Mr. Magro himself, need something different from their school experience than what they are currently getting.”
The range and severity of symptoms of autism spectrum disorder can vastly vary from person to person, Magro said.
“Autism is truly a spectrum,” Magro said.
Common symptoms include difficulty with communication, difficulty with social interactions, obsessive interests, and repetitive behaviors. Early recognition, as well as behavioral, educational and family therapies may reduce symptoms and support development and learning.
Autism spectrum disorder can sometimes be detected at 18 months or younger. By age 2, a diagnosis by an experienced professional can be considered very reliable. However, many children do not receive a final diagnosis until much older. Diagnosing can be difficult since there is no medical test to diagnose the disorders. Doctors will look at the child’s behavior and development to make a diagnosis.
“There is a lot of stigma on what to say and what not to say to someone who has autism,” Magro said. “I get told a lot that I don’t look like I have autism, and my response always is, ‘What does autism look like?’"
Magro said there were several factors that played into his development, including physical exercise, volunteer opportunities, and cognitive behavioral therapy--a psycho-social intervention that aims to improve mental health.
“Cognitive behavioral therapy helped me collect positive thoughts when transitioning to adulthood,” Magro said.
Finding a support network is also important, Magro said, such as the Autism Society of America.
“Don’t just read a book to learn about autism,” Magro said. “Learn by getting to know people who have autism.”