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
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
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
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,
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.