Jan 3

, Autistic College Student Wins Rhodes Scholarship


Douglas Belkin’s January 2, 2017 article in the Wall Street Journal was as much about sacrifices made by the parents of Jory Fleming, as it was about his extraordinary Rhodes Scholarship win. Though he had an aide in public school, he wasn’t learning because he would have meltdowns in class. Jory’s mother, who had just finished medical school, decided to home school her son. She followed her son’s lead. Realizing Jory was fascinated by birds, the family bought a cockatiel. Interaction with the bird led to language, which led to reading, a service dog and a double major in geography and marine science with a minor in geophysics at the University of South Carolina! Belkin’s article cites a 2012 study in the journal Pediatrics that “about 50,000 diagnosed with autism turn 18 every year and about one-third enter college.” Though Belkin doesn’t cite graduation figures, his article does state that “…college administrators say few graduate without support.”

I’d be curious to know whether the parents explored the option of seeking tuition reimbursement under the IDEA. Perhaps there were no nearby private schools that could have provided the individual attention and differentiation Jory needed. However, it is clear that Jory’s local public school district failed to provide him with an education promoting preparation for further education, employment and independent living, which is a primary purpose of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act. Thankfully, other laws (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act) gave Jory guaranteed legal access to a college education and, thankfully Jory has an amazing champion of a mother.

  1. Ellen Richer 4 Jan 2017 | reply

    First, thank heavens for mothers and parents who somehow find that internal fire that stops at nothing to do what is right for their child. Only recently are schools arising that can provide the kind of specialized, non-traditional educational experience that would have made this road smoother for the family. Now, it is a matter of educating the public schools about the principles that make these private schools work so well and, while the same financial resources cannot be apportioned in a public environment, some basic concepts can most definitely be adopted. It is critical for stories about Jory Fleming to come to light because lives and futures matter, and talent and capabilities left untapped because of lack of understanding, on the part of schools and society in general, is simply tragic–and avoidable.

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