The youngest Black professor at Cambridge University is a man who didn’t talk until he was 11 years old


Jason Arday, a 37-year-old renowned sociologist who couldn’t speak until the age of 11, has become Cambridge University’s youngest-ever Black professor.

Jason, who couldn’t read or write until the age of 18, was reportedly written off by experts when he was three years old after being diagnosed with global developmental delay and autism spectrum disorder.

Jason’s triumph over adversity can be attributed to his Ghanian mother Gifty, a mental health nurse, close friends Sandro Sandri and Chantelle Lewis, and Enya’s music. All of this led to an emotional moment when Jason turned 11 years old.

The Cambridge Professor reflected on his journey, saying;

“A lot of the cues I learned for speaking and understanding came from music.

“A lot of music was played in my house to explain how to use sounds. My mother is a huge fan of Gaelic and Celtic culture. As a result, Enya was frequently heard in the house. ‘This is what a river sounds like,’ she’d say. Alternatively: ‘If I were to speak to describe the sound of a river, these are the words I might use.’

“Now, she’s probably thinking: ‘I’ve tried everything, and none of this is working.

“But what she would have no idea of is that all of those things, those thousands of hours she spent with me, sacrificing and forsaking her own career, were all worth it.

“It was all coming together. And I guess that that moment of triumph comes at 11 and I pull my hearing aid out and the first word I actually said was: ‘Hello’. And I used it in the appropriate context! ‘What did you say?’ said my mother. And I repeated myself.”

Jason, one of four children raised in Clapham, South London, had used sign language and spent most of his childhood with speech and language therapists up until that point.

He stated;

“When my mother received the diagnosis, she described it as a hammer to her heart. She was trying to figure out how to be a Ghanaian in Britain at the time.

“A processing delay is a global developmental delay. As a result, my brain processes information at a glacial pace. The autistic side, on the other hand, is like a magic trick.

“It enables me to obsess over something. So my mother gave me things to obsess over. She taught me to play snooker when I was 11 years old.

“It’s just to get the stability from repetition. She didn’t care if I was any good or not, despite the fact that I ended up on the junior tour! I wasn’t good enough to advance.”

Jason stated about his relationship with Sandri, his college tutor and close friend:

“He took me on a course even though I didn’t have any qualifications. All he asked was that I work hard, make sacrifices, and be on time.

“I imagine it was extremely difficult for my mother. But it was beautiful to me.

“I spent a lot of time observing people, the way they walked, talked, the cues they gave, and how they interacted with others.

“I was reading about Nelson Mandela. He claimed to remember three to five facts about each person he met. That is something I continue to strive for.”

Jason’s qualifications include GCSEs in PE and textiles, a BTEC, a first-class degree in PE and education studies, and two master’s degrees.

One was a PGCE to become a physical education teacher. He also earned a PhD from Liverpool John Moores University, all while working part-time at Sainsbury’s and Boots.

Given the challenges he faced, his accomplishment is even more impressive. Jason became a professor of sociology of education after working to address the lack of Black and Brown people in higher education at the universities of Durham and Glasgow.

He went on to say;

“I want to help as many people as possible while also highlighting their brilliance.”

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