Making it through high school, taking the SAT’s and mailing in the application are some of the hardest parts of getting into college for the average student.
So, why was it so different for James Williams Jr.?
When you notice him around campus, you won’t be able to see everything that he has accomplished just to get here.
At the age of 10, one of Williams’ teachers detected that he had many social traits similar to autism, so his parents took him to a psychiatrist to get him diagnosed.
He had all of the traits defined by a high-functioning form of autism, known as Asperger Syndrome.
According to Barbara L. Kirby, co-author of The Oasis Guide to Asperger Syndrome, people “with AS show marked deficiencies in social skills, have difficulties with transitions or changes and prefer sameness.
They often have obsessive routines and may be preoccupied with a particular subject of interest.”
Mainly, “they have a great deal of difficulty reading nonverbal cues (body language) and very often the individual with AS has difficulty determining proper body space.”
Specifically, Williams had problems with reading body language, was withdrawn from peers and like many others, was overly sensitive to senses, such as loud noise and too much light.
The syndrome had been recognized in Germany as early as the 1940’s, but due to poor international relations, the American Psychiatric Association did not add AS to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders until 1994.
When Williams was diagnosed in 1997, he began intense therapy and social-understanding training at his public school.
Due to his exceptional training, he became able to make eye contact, shake hands, and work up to relationship building.
Williams stated, “most individuals like myself never make it to a four-year school because of the social challenges; unfortunately, around 90% of people with AS don’t receive proper training.”
He said that in fact, “most people with AS live with their parents, and either attend a two-year college, a vocational school, or just go straight into the workforce after high school.”
However, their challenges aren’t over when they get a job-it is easier for companies to employ people without any disorders, and even though the American Disabilities Act helps immensely, they are still faced with discrimination daily.
The intense therapy that Williams went through enabled him to cope with his syndrome better than most.
By his sophomore year in high school, he was able to go through his daily life without noticeable differences from others, but on the inside he works very hard to blend in with the average person.
Now focusing his studies on special education, he wants to spend his life helping others learn how to cope with their own disabilities: “I have had to blaze a trail for myself, and I hope to one day help my future students do the same.
Williams has already made a huge impact on society as he has been touring nationally for six years, educating school districts, parents and teachers about AS and how it can be coped with, if given the proper training.
Not only does he tour with the FOCUS Initiative at a state and national level, but he also is the President of the Sam Houston Student Council for Exceptional Children, a member on the Council for Exceptional Children National Standing Committee on Students, runs the teen support groups for the AS Parents Professional Information Exchange and is the coordinator for the Project Sunshine Buddy Program.
All of these positions allow Williams to earn leadership roles and educate the public about the realities of AS, as well as assist others that need motivation to remember that “it isn’t [their] disabilities that count; it’s what [they] can do that matters.”
His hard work, along with the inspiration that Williams has brought to thousands, recently earned him the Undergraduate Student of the Year award, given by the Council for Exceptional Children.
Williams would like to thank his advisor, Dr. Cynthia Simpson, and the coordinator of Project Sunshine, Gale Wright, for their outstanding support with his endeavor into the college atmosphere.
When Williams was asked what has given him the motivation to accomplish everything that he has, he referred to a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”