Inspiring Adult with Autism Hopes to be the Temple Grandin of Her Generation

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This guest Q&A post is with my dear friend Dani Bowman, a young adult with autism who founded her company, Powerlight-Studios at age 11. Now 20, she has worked professionally in the animation industry since 14, premiering 5 award wining animated short films at San-Diego Comic-Con each year for the past 4 years, that include voice overs of Joe Mantegna, Tom Kenny (Sponge Bob), and Stella Ritter in her projects, as well as other voice actors on the autism spectrum. Knowing the special talents of people with autism, Dani employs others on the spectrum at Power Light Animation Studios as musicians, artists, and voice actors. Dani combined her six passions, Autism Advocacy, Public Speaking, Animation, Illustration, Fine and Visual Arts, and Teaching Animation to young adults on the spectrum and other disabilities in hopes to inspire them to follow their dreams.

Dani for her efforts won a scholarship through our organization KFM Making a Difference and was on our list of 10 Inspirational People with Autism.

Kerry: Hi Dani! Can you share with our readers a bit about your journey on the autism spectrum?

Dani: When I was first diagnosed with autism, the doctors told my parents that I would never amount to anything, that I may never speak, that I may never graduate high school, that I may probably need care all of my life, and that I may had to be place into an institution.

After I was first diagnosed, I was put into special Ed since age 5. Although Special Ed may seem helpful, it did not challenge me as much as general Ed. And when I took my first general Ed English class in the 11th grade, I realized I was way behind with my studies; nevertheless, I kick up the storm and got an “A”.

I did graduate high school…with a 4.0 and honors, and I am attending Woodbury University as a junior this semester with majors, Animation and Business. I’m taking a business major because I need to learn the business-side of how to run my animation company. And as for not amounting into anything, I started my company when I was 11 years old, and it’s been successful for the past 6 years. I illustrated and published 5 books, and I premiered 5 animated shorts at San Diego Comic-Con each year.

I also travel around the country teaching animation to children on the autism spectrum.

I’m a public speaker, speaking around the country including my keynoting last year’s conference, OCALICON in November 2014, and speaking alongside Temple Grandin in May 2015, an event about autism and employment, and this fall I will be keynoting at the Oklahoma Autism State Conference. Just to name a few.

My life’s goal is to change the world’s perception of Autism, and show the potential that individuals with autism like me have, and to follow your dreams on or off the spectrum, but always have a plan B.

You certainly wear many hats in our community! What is one of your favorite parts you like about being an autism advocate today?

My favorite part about being an autism advocate is inspiring my peers on the autism spectrum, it’s great when they come up to me and tell me that I changed their lives by something I said in a speech or watching what I do, or something I said to them personally.

You’ve done so much with autism & film from your cartoons and film camps. Do you think our community is doing a good enough job of portraying autism in film and television?

I don’t think so, though there are some TV shows and films that include characters with autism including an autobiography film about Temple Grandin. When I watched the autobiography, it blew my mind, seeing how filmmakers did a great job of how they portray Temple’s life so accurate enough to help me understand that anything is possible.

Despite commercial and critical successes, there should be more films and TV shows that portray the positive sides of autism.

At this point other than Temple Grandin, it seems like we’re mainly portrayed in a bad light, they need to show more the positive side of autism because there are a lot of us, who even though have struggles with autism, we are succeeding. We are not all a tragic story.

We know you’ve done some amazing work with Joey Travolta! How did that relationship come about?

Joey and I first met in 2009 when I started my animation company. I pitched some of my work to him, and he was blown away by my work. Even though he could not help me produce my work, I asked him “How can help you?” and so he had me teach animation to his students on the spectrum at his film camps. Then the following year, he hired me to travel around the country with his crew, teaching animation at his film camps.

What can we expect from you next?

My first day of Woodbury University will start in two weeks, and this November I will be speaking at the Oklahoma State Autism Conference about my journey on the autism spectrum, how my school life have been, and how did I started my animation company (and how it became successful for 6 years). And I will be working on my next animated short to premiere next year at Comic-Con since I have an open slot each year, but ultimately my goal is to make my company Power Light Animation Studios as large as Disney or Warner Bros, but in a autism/disabilities friendly environment. That is my ultimate goal.

You can learn more about Dani by following her through the links below…

Follow Dani on Facebook

Follow Dani on Twitter

I Have Autism and Have Never Let Anything Get in the Way of My Dreams

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Rachel is a pageant girl with a ton of heart who’s showing our community that you don’t have to be defined your disability! Rachel currently is a singer, actress, model, writer and an autism advocate. When she three she was diagnosed PDD-NOS and another doctor later diagnosed her with Asperger’s. This year she graduated from high school with distinction and honors as well as winning the Principle’s award. Rachel was also the latest recipient of the Spring 2015 Honorable Mention Scholarship Award Winner from KFM Making a Difference.

We recently talked to Rachel about what’s she been up too in the pageant world, and as an autism advocate…

Kerry: Hey Rachel! Can you please tell us a bit about how you get involved in the autism community?

Rachel: I have been involved in the autism community from a young age. My mom always tried to get me involved in things to improve my social skills and help me be the best I could be. I started volunteering and working with The Center for Autism and Related Disabilities when I was 14.

How did getting involved with pageants become an interest to you?

I got involved in pageants because my mom was looking for a way to get me out of the house and to help with social skills and make friends. We went to social skills groups but there were mostly boys there and we didn’t have a lot in common. I also had very low self esteem. The pageants I have been involved in teach girls a lot of valuable life skills. I have heard it compared with playing a sport. We learn to work together. The competition is not against each other, but more to do your own personal best with the help of your friends. They have taught me how to be articulate and to speak and sing in front of an audience and have taught me interview skills that have helped me and will continue to help as I look for a job. Also I have created my platform the ability beyond disabilities because of pageantry and have been able to create even more autism awareness around the entire state.

We heard you recently graduated from high school! What advice would you share to other high school students with autism who are currently pursuing graduation?

For kids in high school, I would say, work hard and do your best. Find a group or club that interests you because thats a great way to make friends! For me I loved drama and choir and found people with similar interests and made friends. All of us have different interests but most high schools have a lot of clubs and activities to participate in. Most importantly though remember to be yourself! I am so pleased to be starting college this fall.

What do you hope to be able to do when you grow up both in your personal career and also as an autism advocate?

I am going to pursue my PhD in psychology as well as become a sign language interpreter. I am going to do my prerequisites at St. Petersburg College and after two years transfer to the University of South Florida. I intend to work with children with disabilities when I graduate from College. I am also currently working on a book series called “Klementine Castle.” I am hoping to see it published! I am also planning to continue being an autism advocate, and would love to travel the country to speak at conventions and autism events.

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

I believe that everyone has a valuable part on this earth. Some of us have to go about things in different ways. I have never let other people define what my dreams should be and I have been fortunate to have a supportive family. I truly believe I can show the world that those of us with differing abilities may have to walk a different path but don’t have to be determined by the depth and breadth of our dreams. I want to continue to be involved with autism advocacy and break the stereotype of autism and be able to show people with disabilities that their dreams can come true!

You can learn more about Rachel by clicking on the links below…

Follow Rachel on Facebook

Follow Rachel on Twitter

Follow Rachel on Instagram

Graduation Rates Increase for High School Students with Disabilities

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The U.S. Department of Education has released new numbers that show that the graduation rate for those with disabilities has risen for the third year in a row. As reported from Disability Scoop the new number indicates that 63.1 percent of high school students with disabilities in the United States in the 2013-2014 school year graduated.

U.S Secretary of Educate Arne Duncan said on the increase, “The hard work of teachers, administrators, students and their families has made these gains possible and as a result many more students will have a better chance of going to college.”

Read more at Disability Scoop here.

With college being a possibility for more students with disabilities, we hope you will consider making an end of the year tax-deductible donation to KFM Making a Difference, a non-profit organization that’s given scholarships to 20 students with autism for college in the past 4 years. With your support, we are helping more of these students go to college everyday. Help make a difference for our community today here.

2015 in Review: 7 Students with Autism Receive Scholarship Aid for College

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Thanks to the generous donations of members in our community we were able to reward 7 scholarships to students with autism for college in 2015. This was part of our Spring 2015 Making a Difference for Autism Scholarship Program which is ran through KFM Making a Difference, a non-profit that focuses on helping the special needs community. The students who were awarded scholarships were Chantel Tavares (from Orlando, FL), Jacob Schweppe (from Kewanee, IL), Brandon Lang (from Redwood City, CA) Rachel Barcellona (Palm Harbor, FL), Christopher Hoskins (Beavercreek, OH), Michael Kirouac (Burlington, Ontario), and Christopher Oh (North Palm Beach, FL). The Fall 2015 winners will be announced on Wednesday, January 6, 2016. Since 2011 we’ve awarded 20 scholarships for students with autism to attend college. You can learn more about applying for our scholarship program for 2016 here.

Six Students with Autism Receive Scholarships for College in 2016

Kerry Magro, an adult with autism and Founder/President of KFM Making a Difference (a New Jersey based non-profit corporation), announced his organization’s award of college scholarships to six young adults with autism; Talia Anderson, Chris Fegley, Leora Robbins, Spencer Agabiti, Lucas Brodsky and Clarin G. Paap III. With this latest round of scholarship awards, Kerry Magro and KFM have now awarded twenty (26) scholarships in the last 4 years.

Celebrating their 4-year Anniversary since their non-profit received 501 © 3 status, KFM Making a Difference is helping several young autistic adults make their dreams of going to college a reality. Talia Anderson (from Cape Coral, FL.), Chris Fegley (from Suffolk, VA.) and Leora Robbins (Atlanta, GA.) are showing the world the potential of those in the autism community. These three amazing young adults have been selected as the winners of the fall 2015 “Making a Difference for Autism Scholarship” from the KFM organization. In addition, KFM Making a Difference is giving out three honorable mention scholarships to Spencer Agabiti (from Ringoes, NJ.), Lucas Brodsky (Gurnee, IL.) and Clarin Paap III (Modesto, CA.).

“We saw a record number of applications for our fall scholarship,” says Kerry Magro, founder and CEO of KFM Making a Difference. “With these six (6) scholarships, we hope to help these young adults pursue a post-secondary education…”

In fall of 2012, KFM Making a Difference launched its scholarship program. Today KFM has now given out twenty-six (26) scholarships in total, helping 26 autistic adults to go to college. Kerry Magro, who turns 28 later this month, started KFM Making a Difference in 2009 while in College at Seton Hall University. What most don’t know about Kerry is that he was diagnosed with autism at 4. Today, Kerry is an accredited professional speaker and best-selling author who travels the country discussing autism and disability related issues.

Today, according to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 68 children will be diagnosed with autism while more than 500,000 young individuals with autism will reach adulthood within the next decade. Last year U.S. News & World Report highlighted KFM Making a Difference as one of the only non-profits to give out scholarships to adults with autism in the U.S pursuing a post-secondary program: http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/the-scholarship-coach/2014/04/17/find-college-scholarships-that-support-students-with-autism

KFM Making a Difference will now be looking ahead to its Spring 2016 scholarship application period, anticipating award of scholarships to additional talented autistic adults from the community. The deadline for this scholarship will be Monday, May 2nd, at Midnight U.S Eastern Standard Time. For more information on KFM Making a Difference and how you can apply for the next scholarship please go to www.kerrymagro.com/spring-2016-autism-scholarship-application-opens/ for more details.

This scholarship fund is funded entirely through the generous donations of members in our community. You can help their scholarship program moving forward by making a tax-deductible donation at http://bit.ly/AutismScholarship2016.

Welcome to KFM Making A Difference!

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Award Winning and Breakthrough Advocate Kerry Magro knew early on that he wanted to make a difference in the lives of others. Kerry was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) a form of autism, at age 4. Growing up Kerry’s future was very uncertain.

Today however, after countless hours of therapy and the support of a loving family, Kerry has conquered many of his challenges. Now at 25, Kerry is The Founder and CEO of KFM Making a Difference in The Community, a non-profit organization that is focused on special need housing for disabled individuals in New Jersey. Kerry who is a recent Masters Graduate from Seton Hall University wears many hats in the community. For the past two years he’s traveled the world as a National Motivational Speaker on topics ranging but not limited to Disability Advocacy and Overcoming Obstacles.