Dr. Kerry Magro Ed.D

@kerry-magro | contributor
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Kerry Magro is an award-winning professional speaker, best-selling author, autism advocate and consultant who is on the autism spectrum. A recent Masters graduate from Seton Hall University, he currently is CEO and Founder of KFM Making a Difference, a non-profit corporation focused on disability advocacy and housing. In 2012, Kerry consulted for the major motion picture “Joyful Noise” starring Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton. You can follow Kerry at www.kerrymagro.com, via Facebook at Facebook.com/Kerrymagro and/or on Twitter @Kerrymagro.

My Review of ‘As We See It’ as an Autistic Person

Have you binge-watched this series yet? “As We See It,” an Amazon Prime Video dramedy, looks at the lives of three autistic adults in their 20s as they navigate adulthood between relationships, employment, and more. As an autism entertainment consultant who’s autistic and fell in love with theater growing up, I was excited to give this new series a watch. When I also heard it was created by Jason Katims, a dad of an autistic son, who also produced the NBC series “Parenthood,” it only furthered my interest. Spoilers ahead. We’ve seen TV shows and films that have tended to stereotypically consider autism as “savants” (i.e., Rain Man). However, I was pleasantly surprised to see a shift away from this narrative in this series. Here are some of the things I enjoyed the most about this series. A discussion of “passing as neurotypical.” During one conversation, one of the roommates, Jack, has a girl he’s seeing mention about his autism. Even though Jack never mentioned his autism to her previously, I was grateful. Some autistics consider themselves to have an invisible disability where some challenges may not be seen on the surface. After several talks I’ve given as a public speaker, I sometimes afterward receive the comment, “You have autism? But you don’t look like you have autism.” Later on, in a lovely moment, Jack talks with Mandy, the healthcare aide at their apartment, where she tells him, “I think you are such a beautiful person. You shouldn’t have to hide who you are.” Asian-American representation. While we’ve seen the popularity of shows with white autistic characters like “The Good Doctor,” “Atypical,” and “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay,” I had never seen an autistic Asian-American represented in film or television. Seeing Violet, another one of the roommates, get spotlighted, I believe, will go a long way towards authentic representation. Acting and the benefits it can have on those on the spectrum. Roleplaying and theater can have tremendous benefits for our autism community while building on communication skills. Growing up on the autism spectrum and being an actor helped me with my challenges with “tunnel vision,” not understanding the perspective of others. We see several autistic characters acting out a stage in front of an audience in one scene. It was refreshing to see some familiar faces in the autism community, such as Elaine Hall (“The Miracle Project”), autistic adult Tal Anderson (I’m thrilled to know her as my nonprofit gave her an autism scholarship for college), and Andrew Duff. Andrew is a friend I met when we both worked at Autism Speaks. I’m proud of him for his continued work in the entertainment industry. Overall, I’d recommend this series without reservations. Seeing a show casting autistics to be in front of the camera and behind the scenes (one of the writers of this series also is autistic) is something I hope we continue to see for years to come.

Why I Speak With Businesses About Autism and Employment

Because autistic adults deserve a chance to succeed just like anyone else. Growing up autistic, I wasn’t sure what my future would look like when employed. I knew I had vital interests in sports and theater, but I didn’t know if some of my challenges, such as the inability to read body language, needing breaks at times due to long periods of social interaction, or inconsistent eye contact, would be accepted in a workplace setting. I went from a Sports Management degree at Seton Hall University, where I was assuming I’d take my love of sports to do something in sports radio or television, to changing career paths to follow more of my theater roots. This led to me getting a Masters’s in Strategic Communications to become one of the only professionally certified speakers who are also autistic in the country. I would later get my Doctor in Education from New Jersey City University. Now being in this line of work for over a decade, I’ve made it a passion to help autistics with their path towards finding meaningful employment. This fueled my fire very early on in my speaking career to speak with businesses about “The ROI benefits of Hiring Autistic People in the Workplace.” I realized that even if some of the autistic people I was working with understood the path they wanted to go down, they sometimes needed an accepting environment, similar to the challenges I dealt with when I was starting. Today, some statistics indicate that up to 90% of autistic adults are either unemployed or underemployed in the United States. In addition, there are many companies who, as part of their online literature towards diversity and inclusion practices, don’t have anything on their site about disability. Something I mention in my talks to start the conversation is that… Autistic adults are more likely to stay at a job longer and take fewer days off than their neurotypical coworkers. The majority of reasonable accommodations provided to autistic employees cost $0. It’s not about what a company can do for an autistic person; it’s what an autistic person can do for that company. This is only to start the conversation, though where I give talks for professional development for all employees (often as part of lunch-and-learns or work symposiums) and later to Human Resources about how to make sure autistics aren’t being taken advantage of and that they have breaks to be able to thoroughly succeed on the job. Topics addressed include onboarding best practices, workplace bullying, mentoring opportunities, and more. Because of this work, I’ve been able to speak with groups such as Lowes, Wyndham Resorts, American Express, EBSCO, PSE&G & PNC Bank, among others, including smaller companies that are just starting. One of the most amazing opportunities of my career was when Google asked me to give a talk as part of their “Talks at Google” series on autism and employment. You can learn more about my work here.

My Review of Season 2 of ‘Love on the Spectrum' as an Autistic Adult

Imagine the barriers that would be broken down for those with autism if dating-reality shows like Love on the Spectrum, which is so wholesome and pure, became the norm in the entertainment world instead of shows like The Bachelor. This was a thought I had when watching the first episode of the second season of Love on the Spectrum, an autism-themed dating reality show that is now available to stream on Netflix. Along with being a fan of Season 1, I was interested to check this season out as someone who is currently searching for love on the spectrum along with my work in the entertainment world as an autism and disability entertainment consultant. Similar to Season 1, Love on the Spectrum looks at the lives of autistic individuals in the dating world. This time around, they are looking into the lives of Ronan, Kassandra, Jayden and Teo, along with familiar Season 1 fan favorites Michael, Mark, Chloe, and an autistic couple, Jimmy and Share. Warning: Spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t watched yet, give this article a share on social media and come back later. Overall I was pleased again with the cast’s authenticity in their pursuits of dating, romance and love. While many dating shows feel scripted, you can tell this one doesn’t. At times there are heartfelt moments, funny one-liners, and at other times a bit of awkwardness sprinkled in. Here are some key highlights for me from the season. Michael – What can I say? Michael reminds me so much of myself growing up on the autism spectrum, searching for love in my 20s, so when I heard he’d be back for another season, I was genuinely excited. I applaud him for continuing to put himself out there, most specifically in doing speed dating, which can be an intimidating experience for anyone. When he found a match, I was rooting that it could be “the one,” but alas, he preferred to just be friends with her by the end of the season. I admired him for realizing what he wants in a relationship and not settling. I know some of my mentees worry about breaking up with a partner because of doubts about finding someone else. Michael has become a role model for countless. Continuing to highlight the LGBTQ+ autistic community – Autistics from the LGBTQ+ community are often underrepresented, so I was happy to see Teo and Mark, both bisexual, being featured here. Online dating – Although only mentioned briefly, I have seen this as a platform for some of my autistic mentees to succeed. The advantages of thinking about what you want to say before meeting face-to-face have been helpful for some. Like Season 1, I’d recommend Season 2 without reservations. You can watch “Love on the Spectrum” on Netflix here.

Why I Admire Simone Biles as Someone With Mental Health Challenges

As someone who didn’t always put their mental health first, having people like Simone speak up about her struggles makes a world of difference. Simone Biles, a gold medal-winning Olympic gymnast, left the women’s gymnastics final at the 2020 Tokyo Games. Her team cited a “medical injury” before in a press conference indicating that it was over her mental health. However, Team USA would still go on to win silver in the final. When I was a kid growing up on the autism spectrum, I saw a therapist for a short time due to my challenging behaviors. Being bullied in school, I would avoid mentioning this as getting help and seeking good mental health was often labeled as being “crazy” and “weird.” Some of my mental health challenges were because I didn’t speak in complete sentences till I was 7. I would feel a wide range of emotions but not be able to communicate my needs. As an adult, I have a job as a public speaker and speak openly about mental health. The best thing I could ever do to help with these issues was to put my mental health first and not be afraid to talk about it. Being a big NBA fan, I applauded basketball player Kevin Love for addressing his mental health issues. In addition, superstar tennis player Naomi Osaka indicated mental health issues before leaving a tournament earlier in 2021. While I admire all of their bravery, in Simone Biles’s scenario, in the final of an Olympics, which very well could be one of her last, putting her mental health first was incredible. The fact is, 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year. Simone, I appreciate you speaking up at this moment. I hope you will inspire more people who struggle with their mental health not to be afraid to make it a priority. As a society, let’s have more significant conversations about this crucial topic.

10 Tips to Make Dentist Visits Easier for Autistic Kids

Going to the dentist can be a trying experience for anyone. When you have autism, sitting still for long periods, loud noises, and other sensory struggles can be overwhelming. After I started talking at 2.5 years old, sensory issues became my biggest challenge. After getting some fillings recently, I wrote on my Instagram asking if our community would like to hear about my experiences, and the response was massive. Some parents reached out about how they were avoiding the dentist entirely for their kids and, while I understand the concern, foregoing the dentist when something may be wrong can lead to further health issues down the line. Many of these suggestions are still things I do today as an autistic adult. 1. Do your homework. My parents found the perfect pediatric dentist for me from a recommendation from our pediatrician. If you do a Google search (dentists+autism), you can often find multiple reviews from parents’ experiences with dentist offices. You can find a resource guide listing 200+ autism-friendly dentists here. 2. Prepare before the visit. My parents would talk to me about why I was going there, why it was necessary, and always tried to include a reward for after I was done. This was helpful to avoid any uncertainty. You may consider a social story or a visual schedule. If you do, try to make it personalized based on your loved one versus one with the name of another child. You can create some straightforward social stories via colorful template creators like canva.com or simply by using a PowerPoint template. You may call the dental office and see if you can tour the office before the actual day or see if they have a virtual tour of the office on their website. 3. Split the appointments. When I was going to the dentist for the first time, my parents would make appointments in 30 minute intervals versus an hour. While not all dentists may offer this, those who have previous experience working with autistic children may provide similar accommodations. 4. Bring headphones. Growing up, we didn’t have high-tech noise-canceling headphones like Bose, so my parents would bring earplugs. While not consistently effective, they did drown out some of the noise. It’s important to discuss your child’s challenges with their dentist early on. Try to find a recommendation in your local community for a dentist who has previous experience with autistic and/or SPD patients. 5. Avoid caffeine/sugar. This is a recommendation I’ve given to anyone who struggles at the dentist. The less jittery I was, the more easy-going the visit was. 6. If applicable, see if your child’s OT and/or behavior therapist will go to the appointment too. This isn’t something that helped me specifically. Still, from my work as a professional speaker and disability advocate, I’ve heard about countless families doing this if the dentist is willing, as the therapist can suggest things to help. 7. Visuals can be helpful. I’d sometimes be able to watch cartoons or sports while the dentist was working. While some dentists may not allow this, especially if they need the child to be attentive, having something in the background helped me feel more at ease. If the dentist has a TV, you may ask the dentist ahead of time if they can play one of your child’s favorite programs. 8. Presume competence. My dentist always talked to me instead of talking to my parents. That helped me establish trust, especially during any uncertainty I was feeling during a procedure. 9. Be literal. Having a dentist who understood I didn’t understand sarcasm that well was beneficial. He would break down what he’d be doing in steps, and any instructions were novice to help me better understand. 10. Have a complete team that understands the challenges. Strong communication between the dentist and his staff was helpful. It always felt like he and his assistant had a complete understanding of my sensitivities. Note: I get many questions about whether I received any form of sedation and/or anesthesia, and I did not. What would you add to this list?

My Review of ‘Atypical’ Season 4 as an Autistic Person

“Atypical” is a TV show centered around Sam Gardener, a 19-year-old who’s autistic. Season 4, the final season of the show, was released on July 9, 2021, on Netflix. Season 1 and 2 depicted his navigation through high school, and in Season 3, his journey as a freshman in college. Topics discussed on the show include Sam navigating a romantic relationship and other aspects of his journey on the autism spectrum. This season, we get to explore his world further while concluding the series. As an autistic adult, autism entertainment consultant and a fan of film and television, this was a series I knew I wanted to binge right away. Here’s what I enjoyed about Season 4: the final season of “Atypical.” Note: Spoilers ahead Seeing Sam thrive despite some obstacles along the way Autism is sometimes a challenge for Sam, but that has not stopped him from pursuing his goals. What a ride he has had in these four seasons! I believe his character will resonate with many in the autism community, especially with young autistic adults pursuing different milestones. First, we saw Sam accomplish his goal of wanting a girlfriend. Later, he reached his goal of getting accepted into college. In season 3, he was then able to navigate his transition to college while also making plans to live independently with his friend for the first time. And then finally, he was able to find something he wants to do for a potential career (art), learned to drive, and set himself towards going to Antarctica. In college, like Sam, I found what I wanted to do. I discovered I have a passion for public speaking, which I’m doing to this day as a job. Sam spent a large part of Season 4 getting himself ready for a potential Antarctica trip (getting used to the cold, trying to interact more socially, etc.). However, when Season 4 was about the end, and the Antarctica trip was canceled due to lack of interest (Sam was the only one signed up), Despite this obstacle, Sam still found a way to make his goal happen. Autistic involvement In a review I wrote of Season 1 of the show and looking at things I’d like to see them do for Season 2, I’m happy to say they hired a full-time consultant who’s on the autism spectrum. They later hired Tal Anderson, a young autistic adult who I first learned about when I gave her an autism scholarship for college. Tal ended up playing the character of Sid on the show, who had a role in Season 3 and an even more prominent role in Season 4. Representation continues to need to be addressed in the entertainment industry, and seeing multiple autistic characters on the show has been refreshing. The relationship between Sam and his mom and dad At the beginning of Season 1, it felt at times like Sam’s dad Doug didn’t understand his son’s quirks and there was some distance between them. Sam’s mom Elsa also felt overprotective at times towards him, worried that his diagnosis would hurt his chances of succeeding in college. However, whether his dad was deciding to go with Sam to Antarctica or his mom was becoming less protective and allowing him to go to Antarctica after not initially being receptive to the idea, they’ve all become closer and more trusting of one another. Sibling love Siblings play such a huge role and Sam’s sister Casey truly loves Sam. The bond they share is one where Casey just treats Sam just like anyone else. It’s a beautiful thing to see. While I’m sad that “Atypical” is over, especially when other shows with a focus on autism like “The Good Doctor” and “Parenthood” got renewed past four seasons, I’m grateful for Netflix, Sony, and everyone involved in “Atypical,” including the creator of the show Robia Rashid, for giving us this fantastic series to put a spotlight on autism.

New Pixar Film 'Luca' Spotlights Disabled Character

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a huge fan of Pixar. It started when I was 7, and the original “Toy Story” film came out. I watched the film and would then act out the scenes with my toys. This, without me knowing, helped me build my communication skills as an autistic child who grew up with challenges in that area. Later on, I’d become fascinated by a wide range of movies that helped with my “tunnel vision,” also known as the inability at times to understand the perspectives of others. Watching so many characters over my life helped me open up to understanding how others think and feel. I was reminded of these experiences recently when Pixar’s new film “Luca” premiered on Disney+. Disney + says of the film, “Set in a seaside town on the Italian Riviera, Disney and Pixar’s ‘Luca’ is a coming-of-age story about a young boy experiencing an unforgettable summer. Luca shares these adventures with his friend, Alberto, but all the fun is threatened by a deeply-held secret: they are sea monsters from another world below the water’s surface.” As a disability advocate, I was very excited to find out that this film featured Massimo Marcovaldo – father of one of the main protagonists in the movie, Giulia. He has a limb difference and is a congenital amputee who was born without one arm. While his disability is only briefly mentioned, representing those with disabilities (who comprise the largest minority in the United States) is essential. I have taken my love of films to work as an autism entertainment consultant today to bring a realistic portrayal of different disabilities to the screen. Disabled people getting spotlighted in our entertainment industry is lovely to see. Many congenital amputees were born without a limb due to amniotic band syndrome. As part of my video series where I give a platform for people impacted by a diagnosis to share their stories, I spotlighted a young woman named Kelsey who was born without her right hand and dreams of pursuing a singing career. That was my first introduction to limb differences. I recommend “Luca” with no reservations and applaud Disney and Pixar for this step towards more inclusion of those with disabilities in the entertainment industry. A version of this article was previously published on Kerrymagro.com.

My Questions for Elon Musk After He Revealed He Has Autism on 'SNL'

Growing up with autism theater therapy was pivotal to my development. Thanks to therapies like this, and a laser focus key interest, it has paved my career today as one of the few openly autistic professionally certified public speakers in the country and as an autism entertainment consultant. One of the shows I thoroughly enjoyed growing up and today is “Saturday Night Live” (SNL) on NBC. Because of that, I was curious to see how billionaire Elon Musk would do during his first time hosting SNL on May 8, 2021. He did more than I was expecting. During his monologue, Musk said, “I’m the first person with Asperger’s to ever host Saturday Night Live.” I was live-tweeting and mentioned that Dan Aykroyd, who revealed his own Asperger’s diagnosis and was a cast member and writer for the show for years live hosted in 2003. I missed the part where Musk said, “or at least the first to admit it.” Elon Musk: “I’m the first person with Asperger’s to ever host Saturday Night Live”2nd. Dan Aykroyd has Aspergers and hosted in 2003 ????. Still awesome to see the autism community represented. #autism @nbcsnl @elonmusk— Kerry’s Autism Journey (@Kerrymagro) May 9, 2021 My initial reaction was mixed. I wonder if this reveal would lead to positive change within our autism community. Some questions I’d like to ask him: Will you help with disability policy change? Will you consider hiring talented autistic employees? The majority of autistic adults are unemployed or underemployed in the United States. Will you use your money and influence to help support reliable autism supports across the lifespan for our community? The next day, I started researching a little on Elon to find out if he has any previous background in the autism community. I learned about a controversy he had in the autism community when, in a podcast taping, he said, “So Neuralink (Elon Musk AI brain chips company) I think at first will solve a lot of brain-related diseases. So could be anything from, like, autism.” The neurodiversity movement has been asking for people to stop calling autism a disease or something that can or should be cured for years. Autism is a developmental disorder, hence the acronym ASD which stands for autism spectrum disorder. Could he have potentially slipped up by calling autism a brain-related disease? Perhaps. But you would think he would have retracted it in a follow-up statement. While I was looking at the feedback online, I saw some say how seeing someone like Musk being successful gives “hope” for our autism community. However, I also saw others mention that Musk’s revelation will lead to more people without a personal connection to the autism community assuming all autistic people are savants (i.e., “Rain Man”/”The Good Doctor”). I guess only time will tell!

10 Things That Would Help Me in the Hospital as Someone Who's Autistic

Going to the doctor and hospital can be challenging for anyone. For someone who is growing up with autism and dealing with severe sensory challenges; it can be even more overwhelming. Here are some things I would like healthcare professionals to consider for those with autism like myself. 1. Provide alternative lighting. Fluorescent lights can often be daunting for those who have challenges with bright lights. Dimmers in patient rooms can be an effective solution. 2. Avoid smells when possible. One of the most common places in the world that goes through rigorous cleaning is hospitals with the number of patients they see. Growing up, I was highly sensitive to cleaning products with fragrances that were often overwhelming. Consider neutral cleaning products while also avoiding air fresheners. 3. Create a sensory room and quiet area. When I would be overwhelmed, there was often not a place for me to go to self-regulate. Things you may consider for a sensory room include sensory products such as sensory swings and placing the room in an area where there’s no foot traffic. 4. Presume competence. Often when I was growing up, doctors would talk to my parents and not directly to me. I would see the doctors talk to other kids, making me feel less than kids my age. 5. Be direct. Instead of saying something like, “this will just hurt a little bit,” you could give me an understanding such as a 1-10 scale (1 being the lowest, 10 being the highest) while reminding me that I will be OK and that the pain I may feel is completely normal. 6. Consider training and certification. Having autistic speakers such as myself to educate employees could help break down barriers while reducing autism biases. Have autistic individuals provide their first-person perspectives of what they found helpful in similar situations. 7. Create a virtual video of your workplace to help families prepare for a visit. Routine and structure have played pivotal parts in my life. Many autistic people are also visual learners. Shooting a video of the public areas in your hospital and posting it online can help families prepare for their visits beforehand. 8. Noise-canceling headphones and sunglasses. For low-income families who may not afford specific sensory-related products, consider having a sensory cabinet at your hospital specifically for individuals with autism and sensory processing disorder. This could include things such as noise-canceling headphones. 9. Dietary options. While I wouldn’t specifically need this, some in our community have specific organic and gluten-free diets, or can only tolerate eating certain foods. 10. Give us time to respond. I may be processing what you are saying (if you ask me details on how I got hurt) and need a few extra seconds. I continue to appreciate the work that all our healthcare workers do to keep our community healthy and safe.

We Need More Autistic Characters of Color in Film and TV

While more is being discussed about the importance of authentic autism and disability representation on screen, we can’t forget to write more autistic and disabled characters of color if we truly want to be embrace inclusion. I posted a question on my Instagram page asking people to “fill in the blank” and name their favorite autistic TV character. The top four answers were Shaun Murphy on “The Good Doctor,” Sam Gardener on “Atypical,” Matilda on “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” and Max Braverman on “Parenthood.” All four of these characters are white. I believe the reason we see such an emphasis on these roles is because of the popular image of autism only affecting boys who are white — one part of the stereotype that all those with autism are like Rain Man. I believe this myth is part of the reason why Black children are diagnosed later on average than white children. Those of other races are also underrepresented on screen. This first came to the back of my mind when I was the autistic entertainment consultant for the 2012 film “Joyful Noise.” The movie features Walter Hill (played by Dexter Darden), a young teen character who is Black and autistic. I grew up loving theater and had written frequently about theater therapy on my blog and the impact it had on my development. I was brought on to this film to share my perspective of growing up with autism to make the character as realistic as possible. While helping with this film, in my research, I wasn’t able to find any entertainment projects that included Black autistic characters. Today I know several Black autistic self-advocates, including Lamar Hardwick who allowed me to write the forward to his book and is a pastor on the autism spectrum. I also know of Guy Smith who is autistic and a current college student and singer. My wish is that, as we continue to see more autistic characters on screen, we will also see a beautiful diversity to represent the spectrum of autism. I know I’m not alone in this wish!