When James Glenn Baker was first diagnosed as being "mentally retarded," his parents were told he was uneducable. About two decades later, Baker -- who often goes by Glenn -- can look at his framed degree from Winthrop University with a greater sense of pride.
Baker was born and raised with an older sister, Ashley, in Gastonia.
The first clue something was different about Glenn came when Baker's mother, Nancy Baker, noticed he could only speak about 15 words by age 3. The average toddler can speak at least 200.
She knew her son would be capable of much more than he was given credit for. Time after time, he'd prove her right.
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"I was concerned he was not absorbing his surroundings," she said. "Once he started talking, I realized that he had not missed a thing."
He attended Brookside Elementary School and benefited from the Exceptional Children's services offered, like speech and occupational therapies.
During Glenn's elementary years, Nancy joined an advisory board for children with disabilities.
"That gave us sort of an insight to how the Exceptional Children's Department worked and the resources where I was able to look into his disability," said Baker.
She also became involved with the Exceptional Children's Assistance Center (ECAC), a nonprofit that provides a wealth of resources for parents raising children with disabilities.
In third grade, Glenn was removed from the Exceptional Children's program.
"I didn't agree with it at the time, but they retested him and he didn't qualify," said Baker.
During adolescence, his parents had him tested again and he was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome.
Overall, Glenn has said he doesn't think Asperger's has affected him much day-to-day. He did well in school and was generally accepted by his teachers and peers.
"I usually blended in for the most part," he said.
Despite his initial delay in speech, Baker's vocabulary is extensive. As the years went on, he began to thrive in more challenging classes and was encouraged to take AP classes in high school.
"It was nothing overly challenging. I suppose I enjoyed some of the various readings and such," he said.
In 2014, he graduated from Piedmont Community Charter School. By that fall, he was a student at Winthrop University.
The decision to go to college, "seemed like the rational choice," to Glenn.
For Winthrop in particular, it was the TRiO Student Support Services in part that attracted him to the school.
TRiO is a group of federally-funded programs -- including Student Support Services -- designed to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The two biggest accommodations Baker took advantage of were a note-taking service in his later years and advance meetings with his professors.
It came as a surprise to Nancy when Glenn announced he wanted to live on-campus, but as Glenn puts it, "(Winthrop is) 45 minutes away and doing that drive every day would be taxing and grueling"
Through SSS, he was able to move in the Wednesday before the hustle and bustle of Winthrop's "Welcome Week" and have time to get accustomed to the campus.
A two-day orientation was required of all TRiO students. Part of that orientation included sessions for parents, something that helped Nancy feel better about leaving her youngest child.
"It was sort of like leaving him with four mother hens, which was a great feeling," said Nancy.
Probably one of the biggest transitions for Glenn was getting used to the newfound independence.
"It was a different lifestyle, obviously, especially compared to what I'd been used to -- 12 years in public school and everything to know that you don't have to go to class from sometime in the morning all the way to the afternoon and it's much more spaced out," he said. "You have a much higher degree of independence with your time."
He kept the same roommate -- also a TRiO participant -- for all four years.
In his downtime, he would play tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons and occasionally make his way off campus. He spent two of his summers volunteering at ComServ Creative Opportunities, an organization with offices across the area dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with disabilities.
Baker graduated December 15, 2018, with a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration.
Last year, Glenn was the guest speaker for a transition workshop hosted by the ECAC. He's currently working on his own transitions, having moved back to Gastonia and now looking for work.
Some of his goals include independence, both financially and finding a place to live on his own.
At some point down the line, he'd like to start his own business, though what kind of business, he says, would depend on the right opportunity and environment.
"I want him to be happy and independent," said Nancy. "I think he's well on his way to both."