Rhodes Scholar & Author, How to Be Human
Author and Rhodes Scholar Jory Fleming sees the world differently from other people – and he knows it. As he reveals in his debut book, How to Be Human: An Autistic Man's Guide to Life, which was published by Simon & Schuster in April 2021, Jory often feels as if he lives on his own small island, visible from the neurotypical mainland but without a bridge. As a young child, Jory struggled with his speech and retreated from other children. Once he did start to speak, he knew what he was trying to communicate, but his words rarely made sense to anyone else. At age five, he was diagnosed with autism.
With his mother's unwavering support and presence, years of speech and occupational therapy, and buoyed by his Christian faith, Jory has overcome multiple barriers. He earned a bachelor's degree in geography and marine science at the University of South Carolina. Jory is also the first young adult diagnosed with autism to attend Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, and he recently graduated with an MPhil in environmental change and management.
While Jory acknowledges that his life is not easy in some ways (in addition to autism, he suffers from mild cerebral palsy and mitochondrial disease), he would not trade his brain for a neurotypical one. He doesn't see his autistic mind as more or less superior; instead, he frames the naturally occurring diversity among human brains as giving us collective strength.
In his book, How to Be Human: An Autistic Man's Guide to Life, Jory vividly describes what it is like to live in a world designed for neurotypical brains when his is decidedly not. Though he struggles to process external stimuli that often overwhelm him—including the language and emotions of neurotypical people—he has taught himself how to actively listen to and empathize with others, resulting in an approach that we all might learn from. He asks all of us to ponder topics such as emotional wounding, imperfect communication, why we give so much weight to celebrity opinions, and how we might all be helped by a concept he calls “logical empathy.” Ultimately, Jory makes the case that our best hope for a kinder, more compassionate, and more inclusive world can come through all different sets of eyes. His extraordinary journey will inspire any audience to weigh what it means to be human in a troubled world.
Alongside his service dog, Daisy, Jory is currently teaching in the Honors College and working with the University of South Carolina. In his spare time, he loves to play board games and is an expert birder. He hopes to keep the planet beautiful and alive for the next generation.
As a child, Jory Fleming was wracked by uncontrollable tantrums, had no tolerance for people, and couldn’t manage the outside world. Roughly a decade later, he was bound for England, selected as the first young adult with autism to attend Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.
In this conversation, Jory takes audiences on a journey, showing them what it’s like to live in a world constructed for neurotypical brains when yours is not. But the miracle of this conversation is that instead of dwelling on Jory’s limitations, those who inhabit the neurotypical world will begin to better understand their own: they will contemplate what language cannot say, how linear thinking leads to dead ends, and how nefarious emotions can be.
Jory helps audiences understand what it means to be human and ultimately how each of us might become a better one.