Hey, I'm Ryan

I’m a neurodiversity advocate, storyteller and speaker, exploring the intersection of disability and communication studies at UCLA.

01.

About Me

Growing up autistic with ADHD in a neurotypical world often led me to mask my differences. Now, I’m learning to embrace my identity and build a world where the next generation of neurodivergent kids feel empowered to do the same.

I was diagnosed with autism when I was 18 months old, but I didn’t find out until I was 13. My parents raised me in an era when autism was less understood, and they worried the label would negatively define me. Their fears were justified. I grew up with stories portraying autistic people as socially inept geniuses or emotionally stunted loners. So, when I found out I was autistic, I lived in the shadow of that image, internalizing the idea that autism was a bad thing. I vividly remember classmates using “autistic” as a shorthand for “stupid” or “unlikeable.” I dreaded their inevitable realization that I might be one of those “unlikeables.” 


In college, I had the opportunity for a fresh start to embrace my autistic identity. Instead, I chose to hide it from my teachers and peers, burning myself out socially to mask my differences. I moved through life like the lead performer in a stage production of Normal and by God, I was going to memorize my lines, even if I exhausted myself in the process. 


Then the bill came due. I got a severe case of mono midway through my first quarter and had to return home. I lost contact with the friends I burnt myself out making and almost dropped out of school. I was devastated. My immediate thought was to direct my anger at autism. Maybe if I wasn’t disabled, I could’ve matched the lifestyle of my peers. But the sobering reality soon hit that I wasn’t struggling because I was autistic; I was struggling because I pretended I was not.

I had a choice: continue cultivating the false image of success I’d internalized or embrace the label I’d feared for much of my adolescence.


I ripped the bandaid off through the humble act of telling my story. I wrote an article for Insider where I spoke candidly about my struggle with internalized ableism at UCLA. I almost cried in relief when the first Google search of my name showed “autistic college freshman” in bold letters. There was nothing left to hide. 


Revealing my authentic self opened up a world of opportunity. I shared my story with UCLA administrators, which ultimately led to my co-founding of the Bruin Neurodiversity Collective: UCLA’s first fully neurodivergent student-led organization. I represented neurodiversity at student leadership summits, speaker panels, and even a trip to Washington D.C. with UCLA’s Chancellor. After years of feeling ashamed of my autism, I’m growing into one of the most visible, proud autistic voices at the top public university in the country.


Underneath the surface of my recent successes, I’ve uncovered a lot of anger. I’ve finally started to embrace being autistic — which has transformed my life in unimaginable ways — but how amazing would my life have been if this had happened sooner? It took hitting rock bottom at age 19 for me to stop hating myself for being autistic. I refuse to allow other autistic kids to go through that same struggle.


I want to direct my anger toward changing the societal representation of autism that shames many of us into silence. I will continue to share my story on podcasts, panels, interviews, and more as an example of how neurodivergence can be channeled as a tool for success with the right environments, supports, and accommodations. Moreover, I want to work with entertainment companies to ensure that media portrayals show the full spectrum of autistic experiences and push for autistic stories to be told by autistic storytellers. 


I still feel pressure to mask my autistic traits in public or conform to societal expectations of “normalcy.” I can’t undo the years I lost from being at war with myself, fearing I’d be identified as one of the “unlikeables.” But, I now know autism isn’t a nametag I can take on and off; it’s an integral part of who I am and how I think. Media portrayals and societal messages have fostered ableism and stigma, but I’ve also witnessed their ability to cause meaningful change. I’m confident that through storytelling and advocacy, I can spearhead a movement where the next generation of neurodivergent kids embrace their identity sooner and with greater confidence than ever before.

02.

Recent projects

03.

Resume

Email  | LinkedIn

EDUCATION


University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

September 2022 to present
B.A. Communication and Disability Studies Pre-Major, Film Studies Minor

  • Overall GPA: 3.79, Dean’s Honor List in Winter 2022, Member UCLA Honors Program

Hillsdale High School (San Mateo, California)

  • Valedictorian August 2018 to May 2022

WORK EXPERIENCE

Program Director                                                                               

Bruin Neurodiversity Collective                                                          October 2023 to present

  • Co-founded the Bruin Neurodiversity Collective (BNC), the first administration-funded neurodiversity advocacy organization at UCLA consisting of 7 driven individuals, with funding amounting to over $2000/month.
  • Coordinated weekly meetings, drafted programmatic goals and year-long objectives, and organized Town Hall, social events, and a speaker panel alongside the heads of the Bruin Resource Center (BRC) and Center for Accessible Education (CAE)
  • Oversaw hiring and onboarding for 3 paid part-time staff.

Student Leader   

 Stanford Neurodiversity Project (SNP-REACH)                                         April 2023 – December 2023

  • Co-led 2 cohorts of 8 high school students participating in SNP-REACH, a summer program operating under Stanford Medicine dedicated to using the design thinking approach to address areas of need for neurodiversity in local communities.
  • Managed two projects to completion, each selected to present for over 200 virtual attendees at the 2023 Stanford Neurodiversity Summit.
  • Projects include:
  1. N.E.A.T. (Neurodiversity Education Accommodation Tools): A website prototype using GPT to match Palo Alto high school students with possible disability accommodations (https://neatschools.org/).
  2. A.T.E. (Autism Through Education): A website that provides free neurodiversity educational content to organizations such as the District of Columbia Public School Library system (https://neurodiversity-educational.framer.ai/).

Freelance Writer 

Business Insider                                                                              March 2023

  • Published article in Business Insider, an online publication that receives about 75 million monthly visits: https://www.businessinsider.com/college-freshman-ucla-autism-social-burn-out-2023-3.
  • Spent over 1 month collaborating with established Business Insider editor Frank Olito to draft, edit, and finalize an essay (over 850 words) about struggles as a neurodivergent student in higher education.
  • Invited to speak about the article on The Shameless Mom Academy Podcast, a podcast hosted by Sara Dean with over 5 million downloads across over 700 episodes.

VOLUNTEER EXPERIENCE

Board Member 
Autism Storytelling Project
March 2023 to present

  • Served as the youngest of 7 board members with the Neurodiversity Youth Empowerment Fund (NYEF), a subgroup of the San Jose Rotary Club that fundraises for projects that uplift Santa Clara County’s neurodivergent community.
  • Spearheaded the Autism Storytelling Project, the NYEF’s first initiative that plans to invest over $100,000 of seed capital in creative projects by young autistic artists.
  • Constructed the project overview, eligibility criteria, and mission statement on the fund’s website, aimed for publication in March 2024.

LEADERSHIP EXPERIENCE

Member 
UCLA Chancellor’s LINK Program
December 2023 to present

  • Selected alongside 20 other undergraduate students for the Chancellor’s Leadership, Innovation, Networking, and Knowledge (LINK) Program, a program meant to foster leadership and critical thinking skills for UCLA undergraduate students committed to social change.
  • Traveled with the LINK cohort to Washington D.C. to network with over 50 UCLA business leaders including Chancellor Gene Block.
  • Facilitated congressional panel on political partisanship with House Legislative Directors Mark Olsen (NY-6) and Mike DeFilippis (NY-11).

SKILLS AND CERTIFICATIONS

Skills

  • Microsoft PowerPoint, Microsoft Word, Professional Writing, Public Speaking, Nonprofit Organization Certifications
  • Certifications: Adult and Pediatric First Aid/CPR/AED (June 2022)

INTERESTS/HOBBIES

Star Wars, Marvel, Fantasy Football, Life Coaching

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