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.