HOUSTON - Jackson White is a standout high school football player and honor roll student while studying Japanese and teaching himself to play six instruments.
"Piano, guitar, ukulele, electric guitar, the bass, and kalimba," he says.
Jackson is also autistic.
"I was a lot slower on my work, so maybe other kids would get to go to recess, and I’d just stay inside and still do my work," he recalls of his early years in elementary school.
His challenges started before he was born. His mother gave birth to him on the day of the baby shower, 12 weeks early. He was three pounds and eight ounces.
"Most babies want to be snuggled and hugged and kissed on, but that was a problem for him," says his mother Jaishelle White.
For the first two years of his life, White underwent lung treatments and ear surgery. He also showed signs of developmental delays and sensory issues.
"He would only eat those-like gallons a week of goldfish, granola, crackers-things that would crunch," says his mom.
At around 4-years-old, Jackson was diagnosed as autistic and ADHD with sensory integration disorder, which can mean extreme reactions to sights, smells, sounds, and touches. His mother says she took a controversial approach not telling him about his diagnosis and instead enrolling him in a variety of sports after being told he would have poor motor skills.
"At age four, he got on the swim team, he was a point guard on his four-year-old basketball team, he started playing baseball at around five, fencing, football, lacrosse, track, discus - whatever we could put him in, we put him in it," explains Jaishelle, adding "gymnastics" to top off the list.
Jackson later learned his diagnosis while attending The Joy School, a campus designated for students with learning differences and disabilities to help them transition to traditional classrooms. Meanwhile, his parents kept him enrolled in therapy programs including speech, occupational, water, music, sensory, and food integration. The family also incorporated techniques like skin brushing and having him wear a scuba-like suit under school uniforms.
"It is exhausting, but love kept me pressing forward," says Jaishelle.
The current senior at Lamar High School is now a 5'11", 190lbs wide receiver. He says most of his classmates don’t know he’s autistic. Instead of sharing his diagnosis, he keeps moving and stays focused.
On weekends, he receives wide receiver training from Patrick Barriere of Performance_Houston at Tom Bass Park. Barriere says for the past three years, he’s watched Jackson become more vocal and isn’t surprised by his accomplishments. "He sees these other guys doing it, and is like, ‘Why can't I do it?’ It's the will and determination built inside him," says Barriere.
Jackson is heading to Houston Baptist University in the fall on a full-ride scholarship. His mom is now an autism specialist and educator.
"I say to people who have children who seem to be a little different developmentally, that they get their child evaluated so that they can also start early interventions because it really does help," she explains.
She adds that what seemed like a disability 14 years ago, is now one of Jackson’s greatest strengths.