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Prompt: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Many of the differences between people are on the outside. Visible. Like a lot of others who were considered “different”, I knew it about myself from an early age. But my differences weren’t on the outside, and I never had a way to explain them until recently. Being neurodivergent is still a misunderstood concept, and it applies to so many various conditions that it can be difficult to categorize. For me, though, it encapsulates that feeling I’ve always had of being different.

Being a neurodivergent person has meaning to me because it has affected so much of my life, in good ways and bad. But it has taught me many life lessons, too, that I don’t think neurotypical people experience often. As a child, without a way to communicate my way of thinking and experiencing the world, I was given a few different labels. Some people thought I was a gifted child, because I loved to read and I had an excellent memory. Others called me a problem, accused me of not paying attention or listening. A standout incident for me, and that many others can relate to, I think, is when my sixth grade English teacher forbade me from reading the books I chose during class free reading time. She thought it was unfair of me to read what she considered too advanced. I had brought a well-loved copy of Lord of the Rings with me to class, but since it was well above the reading level of my classmates, it was banned by my teacher. At that time, I couldn’t understand being punished for doing something I loved, and didn’t have the communication skills to express my frustration to her. Instead, I felt forced to sit in sullen silence during class reading time, deliberately choosing not to read the approved sixth-grade reading level books and being labeled as having a problem with authority.

These sorts of judgments made my scholastic life tricky, but my way of processing things made social interactions awkward for me, too. Plenty of kids struggle with these things, but not all of us were able to explain why—and that was the worst part. Not having an explanation for being the way you are and being told all these negative things about yourself with no other alternative to believe. In sixth grade, I didn’t have the tools to explain that I was just doing what I loved, and that with the option taken away from me, I didn’t have an outlet for my feelings of frustration.

My experiences were a sort of blessing in disguise as I’ve grown older, though. Because I’ve had to develop myself. To work on myself, specifically my social skills and communication style. And I’ve had to learn how to turn my differences and my supposed weaknesses into strengths in ways others don’t. I’ve practiced turning my bluntness into clarity. My apparent aloofness into level-headedness and coolness under pressure.

I’ve discovered ways to fit into the world in a way that works for me. It’s given me not only my sense of identity, but my assurance in myself and invaluable soft skills like empathy, self-management, self-discipline, and collaboration. Being a neurodivergent person has also allowed me to develop my creative, innovative mind, to see the world through different lens. My perspective is unique, and it’s opened my eyes to possibilities that others don’t see.

My identity as a neurodivergent person and my background are incredibly meaningful to my past and to my future. I think the world needs more people like me, who see and experience things a bit differently. And I know the self-discovery I’ve gone through with this process is a solid foundation on which to build my future.

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