Cambridge’s youngest black professor couldn't read or write till 18

Jason Arday suffered from many developmental delays because of his condition.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Jason Arday.

An autistic man who could not read or write until he was 18 is now Cambridge University's youngest-ever black professor. His name is Jason Arday and he is 37 years old. His autism was so severe that he was left speechless until he was 11.

Violently reject at first

He said: "When I started writing academic papers, I had no idea what I was doing. I did not have a mentor and no one ever showed me how to write.

"Everything I submitted got violently rejected. The peer review process was so cruel, it was almost funny, but I treated it as a learning experience and, perversely, began to enjoy it."

Despite being diagnosed with global developmental delays when he was a child, he had huge questions to ask the world.

He remembers thinking: "Why are some people homeless? Why is there war? I remember thinking if I don't make it as a football player or a professional snooker player, then I want to save the world."

He finally learned to read and write in his teens and at age 27 he wrote on his bedroom wall: "One day I will work at Oxford or Cambridge."

Taking on the world and winning

He recalls how he talked to his friend and college mentor Sandro Sandi: "Sandro told me, 'I think you can do this - I think we can take on the world and win.' Looking back, that was when I first really believed in myself.

"A lot of academics say they stumbled into this line of work, but from that moment I was determined and focused - I knew that this would be my goal. On reflection, this is what I was meant to do," he told Wales Online.

He studied by night and worked as a PE by day. He went on to receive two master's degrees and a Ph.D. in educational studies from Liverpool John Moores University becoming an acclaimed professor in the process and publishing his first solo paper in 2018.

He first secured a Senior Lectureship at Roehampton University before moving on to Durham University, where he was an Associate Professor of Sociology.

He then moved forward to begin a prestigious professorship at the University of Glasgow’s School of Education, making him, at the time, one of the youngest professors in the UK.

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