Grayson Gladden, the young man who stands to go to college at Auburn University with the passage of a new disabled veterans scholarship bill, is a remarkable person. He is the son of John and Janna Gladden.
Grayson has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism. But as his father John Gladden relates, young people with intellectual disabilities have goals, hopes and dreams just like the rest of us. And many just need an opportunity to prove themselves.
The Auburn Eagles program Grayson plans to attend is comprehensive transition program teaching students not just academics, but also about independent living and job skills, as well as how to take care of themselves in general.
“It is a college experience that prepares them to be productive citizens,” John said. “They talk about personal finances and even offer some internships.”
When Grayson was a sophomore, he heard other students talk about going to college. He came home and asked his parents if he could go to college.
“I thought, ‘My son wants to go to college. We’re going to see about him going to college,’” John said.
They first looked into the Clemson Life program at that school. Then later they learned about the Auburn Eagles program.
“We researched what we needed to do to get Grayson prepared,” John said. The school revised his IEP – Individualized Education Program – that all special education students have in order to help him prepare for college.
“We wanted to mimic in his junior and senior year of high school the things he would need for college,” John said.
The work was challenging, but Grayson has been meeting challenges head-on his entire life.
“Grayson has not only been behind the 8-ball with his disability,” his dad said. “He missed part of his 7th grade year of school. He was diagnosed with cancer and spent some time at St. Jude’s. He was able to take his cancer treatments locally.”
That’s a lick, for anyone of any age. So how did Grayson come back from it?
At the beginning of his 8th grade year, he told his parents he wanted to try out for Albertville High’s award-winning show choir.
His parents gave their blessing, but privately wondered if he wouldn’t be let down gently by being told he didn’t make it.
“The next thing we know, our man is part of the Albertville Show Choir, singing and dancing on stage,” John said. “I call him a 4-year letterman. He has been in the show choir all 4 years of high school.”
So Grayson has kept up with his resource classes, his regular classes, defeated cancer and been in the show choir over the last 5 years.
“Grayson has a story to tell to the world,” John said. “Just because you have intellectual disabilities, you don’t have to limit yourself. Don’t put a label on yourself. Don’t put a cap on yourself. Now Grayson is going to go to Auburn University to get an education. I hope his story can inspire some other kids that nothing is impossible when you believe in yourself.”
Grayson dreams of coming back to Albertville after his college days are finished so he can help other kids just like himself in show choir.
Grayson has a younger brother in 7th grade, Hudson, and a sister in 4th grade, Kennedy.
John said the Gladdens are thankful for Rep. Kerry Rich and Sen. Clay Scofield hearing their story and carrying the torch to get Grayson and other kids with intellectual disabilities eligible for disabled veteran dependent scholarships.
“This is going to help a lot of students throughout our state,” John said. “We had a bunch of citizens in other parts of the state reaching out to their legislators urging support,” he said. “There hasn’t been a single nay vote on this and I think that says how important it is.”
“We thank the good Lord that He has moved mountains and obstacles to make this possible,” John said. “He gets all the credit for saving our son from cancer.”