For Will Johnson, a nineteen year old student with autism attending Anderson High School, the cheer team represents a turning point in his life.
An article written for WFMY News 2 details how Johnson was non-verbal until the age 3 and was formally diagnosed with autism at age 5. Since then his parents noted how he faced a lot of unique challenges growing up, especially when it came to making friends.
Things began to take a turn for the better thanks to Steve Johnson’s organization, Open Doors Tennessee, where Johnson was able to meet volunteer Kaylee Knoernschild. After hearing how Johnson was struggling to find his place at Anderson High School, Knoernschild suggested he come with her to cheer practice one day.
Johnson’s parents claimed that this experience would quickly lead to Johnson joining the team, and his noticeable improvements in his attitude and mood. What they would later realize that while the cheer team had a great impact on their son, Johnson was having an even greater impact on the cheer team!
Schectin talks about how all of his personality has brought out the best in the team, and that his teammates include him in everything they do whether it be prom, pool parties, or even sleepovers.
One of Johnson’s fellow cheerleaders says that “I’ve really never thought about us helping Will in different ways. Because I’ve just seen the way that Will impacts our lives, and the way he’s changed my life completely,” and it seems like that the rest of the team would agree.
Johnson’s dad talks about the watching his son on Senior Jersey Nightwhere he saw his son run on the field with the rest of the cheer team. He felt proud that his son was finally able to find his place within the school, and that he was able to be just as much a positive influence on the team as they were on him.