In ‘The View from Here’ we will be zooming in on four autistic individuals and where they are on their life journeys. Our Editor-at-Large, Conner Cummings, came up with the idea (brilliant!) and the name was voted on by a group of our autistic peers. First up, Jacob Fuentes. Let’s follow him on his road to college.
By Jacob Fuentes
I know what you may be thinking, what is this kid doing writing this? Most seventeen-year-olds are out with their friends, playing video games or even dating. Well, I am not like most seventeen-year-olds. Don’t get me wrong, I do have some friends, love playing video games and I am currently working on the dating part; but I also have autism. I’m sure you saw that coming, as this is an autism magazine. That said, I share this with you in hopes that my writing about my experiences growing up will inspire and offer insight to others.
One of the greatest challenges I am facing currently is figuring out what school I will attend when I graduate. Judging by the number of messages in my spam folder, there are certainly a lot of choices. The list of options can be overwhelming for any teenager, but for me even more so. To be honest I used to delete them without even opening them up. Now I at least look at them before pushing delete. After touring several schools, I now know what I’m interested in which makes sorting through all those emails a lot easier. However, this was not always how I did my sorting.
Two years ago, if someone asked me what university I would go to after high school, I would answer with the most absolute certainty that I would attend Princeton. Two years before that, I would answer Harvard as my choice school. The reason that I stated my intention to attend these extremely prestigious Ivy League schools was that I thought I was smart and those were the schools that smart people went to. Over the past year, however, I learned that there is more to me than just my intelligence and more to a school then just a name. I have not only learned this, I have accepted that these other things are just as important as my smarts. Most of all, I have accepted my autism as a part of who I am.
Over the past year, however, I learned that there is more to me than just my intelligence and more to a school then just a name. I have not only learned this, I have accepted that these other things are just as important as my smarts. Most of all, I have accepted my autism as a part of who I am.”
This was not always the case. I used to deny anything that made me different from the rest of my peers. In elementary school, I had the accommodation of being able to use a computer to write essays because of my dysgraphia, a condition I have that makes writing painful- both to me and those who try and read it. Day in and day out I would strain my hand trying to keep up with my classmates. I would knowingly do those excruciatingly agonizing writing assignments because I did not want to stand out. As the years passed, I realized that the computer improved my work as I could type much quicker and for longer periods of time than I could ever possibly have written. Why torture myself just to be a member of the crowd when there was something, a tool, that would allow me to be more successful? This was the question that I asked myself. The answer proved to be my epiphany. With the use of my computer I no longer felt the need to keep up with my peers; they felt the need to keep up with me.
Getting back to my point, I saw that smart people went to Harvard and that was where I thought I had to go. Just like with my example, I saw my peers do something and I thought that I had to do the same. And again, like the example with the computer, I realized that the university I will eventually attend will most likely not have a fancy name or be the highest rank.
What I have learned thus far in my search for the right school to attend after I graduate, is no one college is right for every person. Some individuals may feel comfortable in a fast paced and competitive Ivy League school. But for me, I have decided I am not going to go to Harvard, and that’s okay. I don’t care if the school I will attend has the best football team, the most famous alumni, or the biggest Greek Row. I want to go to a university that has an accessibility program that is actually accessible to their students. I want to go to a school where I feel welcomed and can make lasting connections with my fellow classmates. I want to go to a smaller school, perhaps a liberal arts school, where my professors will know me by my name and where I will be given the tools as well as the opportunities to be successful.
I know I am different. What I have learned is that everyone is different. Everyone has their own preferences, their own skills, and their own timeline to do things. But I have also learned that those timelines are not set in stone, they are fluid, changeable. Back to the Future taught me that.
Look at my timeline for example. There was Princeton, then Harvard then I thought I would stay local−as in still living at home. But now I am considering schools that while still in state, are way too far for me to go home for dinner every night. I will need to live on campus and if I want to eat Mom’s Beef Stew it will have to wait for my school break. There are even a few out of state schools that I’m still considering applying to as well. This is something I never imagined I would do, but now I am warming up to the idea.
These are very interesting times with endless amounts of possibilities to explore. I admit at first it can seem very overwhelming. Sometimes, I just want to close off my mind to all the choices and just focus on the schools I already have visited. But then, I look at my chaotic email box filled with opportunities and my mind opens once again.
As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Whatever you are, be a good one.” It does not matter what university I will eventually attend. What matters is what I do when I am there and the difference I can make by just being me, Jacob Fuentes, a teenager with a cluttered email inbox!
Editor’s Note: How will Jacob do in taking his college entrance exams? What college is his ‘right’ choice at this point? Stay tuned for a quick catch-up on Jacob in Issue 14.
Jacob Fuentes is a proud autistic self-advocate who is a Junior in High School and is currently searching for the right university where he plans to major in Political Science and minor in Communications. He is a National Honor Society Member, on the Varsity Debate Team and Vice President of the High School Chess Club.
Read more articles in Zoom Autism Magazine, Issue 13:
- Lights, Camera, Activism! Up Close with Matt and Ed Asner by Lydia Wayman
- Walking with Owen by Walter Suskind
- Parenting, Spectrum Style by Maura Campbell
- “I Have Stopped Using the Word ‘Family’ and Have Never Looked Back!” by Becca Lory
- Cummings and Goings: The Manyness of Family by Conner Cummings
- How I Found My Happy Ending by Megan Amodeo
- The Impact of Camouflaging, Anxiety and Trust by Robert Watkins
- What Does the Word Family Mean to You?