Published Jan. 7, 2015
Jersey City resident Kerry Magro is quite accomplished for a 26-year old.
An accredited motivational speaker by the National Speaker Association (NSA), the oldest and largest professional speaking association in the world, Magro has spoken at more than 400 events internationally, including a TED conference in November.
He is the author of two bestselling books, served as an adviser for the movie “Joyful Noise” and the upcoming “Jane Wants A Boyfriend” and in 2011 he founded his own non-profit called “KFM Making a Difference.”
Magro is also autistic.
“I never saw this level of success for myself, it’s still a huge shock for me,” said Magro, who was non-verbal until the age of 4 and spoke with a stutter for most of his childhood. “Not being able to communicate my needs led to a lot of emotional struggles. Thankfully I had the best support system at home which created a wheel for me when autism was not very well known in our world.”
When Magro was born, only 1 in 1,000 children were diagnosed with autism. Today in New Jersey, 1 in 45 children are diagnosed with autism, according to Magro.
Growing up, Magro attended occupational, behavioral, physical, and social therapy to help him manage his autism. When he entered the Jersey City public school system, he bounced around between three different schools, each one claiming they didn’t have the necessary services to handle Magro’s disability.
Seeing the treatment her son was receiving inspired Magro’s mother, Suzanne Mack, to become a member of the Jersey City Board of Education, a position she would hold for nearly 20 years.
“I came to the Jersey City Board of Education to help my child,” said Mack, who founded the board’s committee on special education to help her child and others like him receive the support they needed.
Today Jersey City public schools provide special education to 3,500 students, including 682 with autism.
“Seeing my mother in a public role speaking about my disability and autism awareness gave me the confidence to speak about that stuff myself,” said Magro of his early influences.
Magro attended Teaneck Community High School for the learning disabled and was accepted into Seton Hall University in 2007, where he flourished.
“I started giving speeches about autism and disabilities as a freshman,” said Magro. “I wanted to step out of comfort zone and tell people I was autistic so I took an oral communication class and gave a speech on autism and disabilities and people were very warm and accepting. That’s really where it started.”
Throughout the rest of his undergraduate years he traveled around New Jersey giving motivational speeches. As a senior he was awarded the Earl Nathingale Scholarship from the National Speakers Association, allowing him to pursuit a masters degree in strategic communication and leadership and also making him an “aspiring speaker” in the association.
Three years later he is one of only a handful of accredited speakers in the association with autism.
“Every time I get an opportunity to speak in front of hundreds of people it really just blows my mind,” said Magro. “I want to let people know that there is hope. ‘Autism can’t define me, I define autism’ is a quote I use a lot in my speeches.
“Autism is just a part of who I am. I want to be seen as a person who is just trying to make it and I want to show others with disabilities that they are never alone.”
Today Magro is the social media coordinator for the national nonprofit Autism Speaks. He is working on his third book to go along with his bestseller “Defining Autism From the Heart” and “Autism and Falling In Love.” He is also working with one of his former teachers to produce a documentary about his life.
His TED talk will debut on the TED website later this month.
“Kerry always says autism isn’t a disability unless you make it one,” said Mack. “Kerry was able to channel the strength of his autism to be able to move forward. He went from being non-verbal to an accredited public speaker. He was able to channel his desire to succeed into a life where he can help thousands of parents and kids help themselves.”
When Kerry was diagnosed with autism we thought there was no hope,” added Mack. “Now we can see that Kerry can be there. Now we see that there is hope.”
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