About James Williams
James Williams was born on August 20, 1988, in New York City. He seemed like a normal baby boy until the day he turned eighteen months. Suddenly, everywhere he went he cried, and his mother couldn’t do anything. Whenever someone entered his house, he would try to push the person out.
This behavior was dismissed as part of the “Terrible Twos” until he was three years old and the problems didn’t go away. Thus, at three he was diagnosed with autism. His parents didn’t know much about autism was until they moved to Northbrook, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, when James was almost four years old. There they met other parents with autistic children, and shared stories and advice on therapy. Note that James was born at the beginning of the autism epidemic of the 1990s and was the beneficiary of many new therapies that were developed to address this epidemic.
From 1995 to 2007 James spent part of his education homeschooled and at regular school. His mother's decision to homeschool him was based on issues he had had in school that were not being addressed by the schools in the district he lived in. He also was a member of a therapeutic drama group for individuals with autism from 1998 to 2005. In that group he learned about acting and its role in helping individuals with autism get through in the world they live in. He also realized that as a person with autism, he had the ability to help others understand what was going on in the autistic person's mind. After gaining recognition in the autism community as a person able to understand autism and help others understand it, he made his speaking debut in 1999, answering questions about autism after a lecture given by Annabel Stehli, author of "THE SOUND OF A MIRACLE."
After years of intensive therapies and one-on-one interaction, James has changed from being a nonverbal, screaming toddler to an intelligent, feeling, and talking young adult. He is the co-author of a book on autism, THE SELF-HELP GUIDE FOR SPECIAL KIDS AND THEIR PARENTS, published in 2000, and the author of a mainstream fiction novel, OUT TO GET JACK, published in 2003.
Despite suffering a severe stomach illness, he gave the keynote presentation at the 2000 conference of MAAP, a support group for high-functioning autistic individuals, and a presentation at the 2001 MAAP conference. Later, after recovering from his illness, he spoke on a panel at the 2002 MAAP conferences. He has also spoken at a parent support group in South Bend and at the 2004 conference for the support group AutismOne, and helped arrange the daycare facilities at the 2002 MAAP conference and the 2004 AutismOne conference with his mother, Joan Matthews. He also gave presentations at various conferences, support groups, and a therapeutic day school during the fall of 2004 in South Bend, Chicago, and Indianapolis.
Despite the fact that he’s come a long way, James still has many issues that arise as a result of his autism. He often does things in public that are not always socially acceptable, suffers from various food allergies, and has certain sensory issues like sensitivities to loud noises. Some of these issues are specific to the fact that he is so high-functioning. Because his autism is now subtle (until something happens that reveals his true ineptness), his disability is often dismissed as the fantasy of his nutty mother. Often, because he’s just “a little off,” everyone wonders why he’s so rude when in fact he’s doing very well compared to other autistic individuals. Another issue that is critical is disparity in knowledge. James has an excessive ability to perform certain tasks but an inability to perform others. For example, although he’s very adept at writing a book, and has finished three novels, he has immense trouble cleaning a room. He also struggles with verbal censorship. Sometimes he laughs when in fact he’s feeling very sad about something, and he says it’s like a puppeteer pulling the wrong string.
James is in a unique position in that he is a member of the autistic “baby boom,” so his ideas apply to the current generation of kids. Also, unlike the previous generation, who received virtually no therapy, James has been the beneficiary of numerous therapies, and he can comment on what helped and what didn’t. His opinions are already sought after by many parents of younger children, and he frequently receives e-mails from strangers asking for his advice.
In the summer of 2003, a graduate student wrote to a newsletter asking for help about what she could do to help her autistic brother. James wrote to her, and they corresponded for the next eight months. Recently he realized that much of what he wrote in his letters to the graduate student were useful to other parents as well. Many of his ideas in those letters eventually became points in his forthcoming presentations.
In the winter of 2005 until the summer of 2006 he volunteered at a local daycare center in Northbrook, Illinois. This enabled him to observe how neurotypical children interact with each other and develop, and has helped him understand the differences between neurotypical children and autistic children of the same age, and how his development has been different from the development of other kids. From the fall of 2006 to the summer of 2007, he completed a course of study in child development and education at Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, Illinois, the school in his local school district, while being homeschooled for other academic subjects. As a part of his coursework, he served as a teaching assistant in early childhood settings.
During his studies of child development, he was admitted into Glenbrook North High School's special-ed "peer mentoring" program in the winter of 2007, and began to mentor in one of Glenbrook North's special-ed classrooms, which he still continues to do today. After learning about the "transition program" that was offered at Glenbrook North for individuals with special needs aged 19-21, James asked if he could enroll in the program as an older student pursuing a high school diploma. The special-ed department allowed this, so in the fall of 2007, at the age of 19, James enrolled in the high school's transition program and successfully graduated from Glenbrook North High School in June 2010. During his high school career, James became very active at his high school, where he joined multiple clubs such as the Gay-Straight Alliance and Best Buddies, as well as becoming a frequent spectator at his high school’s sporting events. He also served as a peer mentor in a self-contained classroom at his high school for two years, and during his senior year, became a gym leader in his school’s gym leader program. During this experience, he gained many friends and insights into the nature and intricacies of high school social life, along with a unique set of beliefs regarding social skills and social teaching, which he shares frequently in his presentations.
James continues to present around the U.S. about autism. From 2005 to 2007 he was featured in a column in S.I. Focus Magazine titled, "Ask James Williams."
He is also a member of the Tourist Union No. 63, an organization for traveling workers and hoboes, where is known by the pseudonym “The Pied Piper.” In addition, he visits social groups for individuals with autism around the country. He currently lives with his family in Northbrook, Illinois.
You can read archived presentations that he has written, as well as essays he has not published in a book on his website. If you would like to contact him, or have him speak at your school, convention, or event, you can find information on how to contact him here.
You can also see a list of all of the presentations he has given here.