Like the theme of the late Dr. Josephine Posey’s University history books, Alcorn State University alumnus Ryan Tyler is “Succeeding against great odds.”
Tyler, an administrative assistant for the Southwest Mississippi Center for Culture & Learning in Alcorn’s Belles Lettres Building, earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2019 and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in applied sciences & technology. He’s accomplished these feats while living with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ASD is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. People with ASD often struggle with social communication and interaction and restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests. People with ASD may also have different ways of learning, moving, or paying attention.
Tyler was diagnosed as a toddler. As he grew, he noticed differences between him and his peers.
“I felt different because when I looked at my classmates, they seemed like normal children doing normal things,” said Tyler. “I felt like I was out of place when I saw my classmates play sports because I never was interested in any of those things.”
Hearing discouraging words from doubters was one of Tyler’s challenges growing up.
“There were some who told me what I couldn’t do. Some people would call me names and look down on me. However, the people who are looked down on are the ones who rise to glory. I’ve learned that those who endure hardships are destined for greatness.”
Thanks to a loving support system, the noise from the cynics had little effect on Tyler. His family’s encouragement gave him the confidence to fulfill his vision of success.
“I was raised by my grandmother (Comolita Bailey). Although she’s overprotective, she did a fantastic job raising me. Her, my father (Freddie Tyler), uncle (James Tyler), and Godmother (Rose Hammitte) never made me feel like I was different. They would remind me that it’s okay not to be interested in the same things as my classmates. They would tell me that it made me unique.
“My late great-grandmother (Luester Mackey) had a positive influence on my life. She would always tell my grandmother to let me grow up because she was overprotective of me. Although she understood where my grandmother was coming from, she also saw that I was growing into a unique person, which is something that I didn’t see at that time. My great-grandmother wanted me to be a normal child.”
Faith in God was given to Tyler by his family early in his life. Learning about faith and believing that God makes a way has helped Tyler navigate through life’s challenges. He’s thankful to his family for instilling faith in him early.
“Both of my grandmothers taught me to put my faith in God. They taught me that no matter what I’m going through, to surrender my issues to God, and He’ll take care of the rest. My other grandmother (Jessie Tyler) kept my siblings, cousins, and me in church every Sunday. She’s the reason why I’m an usher at my church. She instilled in me to always give God time and stay connected to my faith.”
Equipped with more confidence, Tyler began his college education at Copiah-Lincoln Community College (Co-Lin) in Natchez, Mississippi, where he earned an associate’s degree in history in 2017. After completing his studies at Co-Lin, he enrolled at Alcorn to further his education.
Alcorn is where Tyler found himself.
“When I came to Alcorn, it was amazing. I felt that this was the place I wanted to be. My whole life, I knew that I wanted to attend college. Also, coming to Alcorn is a family tradition.”
Student life at the University taught Tyler life lessons he values and applies to his life.
“Being a student here helped me not only to understand college life but also helped me to understand how the world works. I realized that things aren’t handed to you; you have to work hard. Also, I learned that you won’t always have help, so you must learn to do things yourself because no one will hold your hand throughout life.”
Working at Alcorn has also been beneficial for Tyler. He credits his manager Teresa Busby, executive director for the Southwest Mississippi Center for Culture & Learning, for assisting him and exposing him to new skills.
“I’ve gained many skills since joining the staff almost four years ago. One of my favorite new skills is planning events. Planning events keeps me going and makes me feel I’m doing something worthwhile. I appreciate Ms. Busby because she always teaches me new things and helps me whenever needed. She encourages me to grow and see more of the world. She’s helped me tremendously in gaining necessary professional skills.”
Tyler hopes to be a beacon of hope for others like him. He encourages those with autism to pursue their dreams without hesitation.
“Keep moving and striving, and don’t let others tear you down. There will be tough times, and people will doubt you but forget about those who have negative things to say about you. Don’t let any of those things stop you.”
The boy who felt out of place has become a man who feels he belongs.
“I don’t feel out of place anymore. I embrace that I’m different. My goal is to influence students by showing them not to doubt themselves and that they can reach their goals. Also, don’t look down on others when you reach your goal. Remember where you come from and the tears and struggles you’ve gone through.”