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Unable to Read or Write Until 18, Now Cambridge Professor

Diagnosed with autism and global development delay in his early years, Jason Arday was unable to speak until he was 11 years old and could not read or write until he was 18. Now aged 37, he is about to become the youngest black person ever appointed to a professorship at the University of Cambridge.

Professor Jason Arday
Credit: Professor Jason Arday

Although he could not speak, the young Jason remembers fervently questioning the world around him. "Why are some people homeless?" he wondered. "Why is there war?"

Born and raised in Clapham, south-west London, Arday, a sociologist, says formative moments included watching Nelson Mandela's release from prison on television and South Africa's symbolic triumph in the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

He recalls being deeply moved by the suffering of others and a strong compulsion to act.

"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 says.

His mother played a critical role in developing his self-confidence and skills. She introduced him to a wide range of music in the hope this would aid his conceptualisation of language.

Later, supported by his mentor, college tutor and friend Sandro Sandri, Arday finally began to read and write in his late teens. He went on to get a degree in Physical Education and Education Studies from the University of Surrey before training as a PE teacher.

At the age of 22, Arday became interested in the idea of carrying out postgraduate study and spoke about it with his mentor. "Sandro told me, 'I think you can do this - I think we can take on the world and win'," he says.

"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."

Arday went on to acquire two masters qualifications and a PhD in educational studies. Asked when he realised he was a sociologist, he says it was probably in about 2015. "On reflection this is what I meant to do."

Eight years on, he is poised to become professor of sociology of education at Cambridge.



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