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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Autistic Rhodes Scholar

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the growing number of college students on the spectrum.  They face many challenges, but there are also inspiring stories of success. Here is one.

At The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC), Lauren Sausser reports on Jory Fleming, a University of South Carolina student who has just won the Rhodes Scholarship. At Oxford, he will pursue a degree from  the School of Geography and the Environment.
Fleming is a unique candidate for the Rhodes Scholarship on his merits alone. He previously was named both a 2016 Goldwater Scholar and a 2016 Truman Scholar. But his achievements are even more impressive in light of the health obstacles he has faced. Fleming was diagnosed with autism when he was 5 years old and suffers from a genetic condition that limits his medical independence.
He wears leg braces to improve his mobility and is accompanied everywhere on campus by a therapy dog named Daisy. His mother and caregiver Kelly Fleming will move to England with him next year, "an adventure for all of us," he said.
The Flemings, who live in Columbia, are up for the challenge. As a newborn baby, Kelly Fleming said Jory faced severe medical complications, and later, development delays.
"It’s been a long road, but I hope his story gives hope to other people with children with autism," she said. "They all have their strengths and if you pull them out, it can be so beneficial. Jory has an entirely different way of looking at the world. I think we need to appreciate that and not just value what we consider normal brain functioning."
Apparently, the judges were impressed. Only 32 Rhodes Scholars from the United States were named Nov. 19. Fleming is the only one who has been diagnosed with autism.
He tried to explain how the disorder, which now afflicts an estimated one in 68 children, has helped him.

"I’m definitely different in terms of how I probably think. My memory happens to be really good as a result," he said. "It’s hard for me to say because it’s just me. I don’t really know what it’s like to not be me. Does that make sense?"