HORU January 25, 2016

"Around the age of two, my mom realized that something was 'off' about me. I wouldn't look her in the eye, I wouldn't really engage with anyone, and I'd be off by myself playing with boxes or stacking soup cans; but I wouldn't talk to anyone. In 1995, my mom took to me to the doctor's office and they told her that I was most likely autistic. Autism research at that time was pretty limited, so my initial diagnosis when they told my mom was, 'Look. This is going to be a major factor in your son's life, for the rest of his life. He's not going to go to college, he's going to need special programs in school, he'll never be normal, and if he's toilet-trained then that's going to be his big accomplishment.'

Growing up, my mom really didn't want to believe in that. And so, as a single mom, she did everything she could to raise me well. My mom didn't tell me my diagnosis, and I didn't find out for myself until I was around 12 or 13. When I finally found out, I said to myself, 'This is who I am. It's not everything I am, it's a part of me.' Moving forward, I wanted to make something of myself and be a better person. So I threw myself into all of these activities to make me uncomfortable and to push my boundaries. I tried out for the basketball team, ran for student council in high school, and now I'm an orientation leader and RA here on campus. But I still remember those nights when I would come home from school crying to my mom, saying that no one liked me, and that my grades didn't matter. Because at the end of the day, I was being bullied for them, and I wasn't going to do anything about it. But I think I'm a lot stronger than I originally gave myself credit for. Going through all of those struggles; until you're there, you don't know what you're capable of. Strength can come from other people supporting you, but there is a lot within you. And there's a lot that you can draw on. And as long as you know who you are, and you know your story better than anyone else, that's really all you need."

To learn more about Ryan and how he's leaving his MARK on those here at Rutgers, visit:

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