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Meet an Amazing American Rhodes Scholar with Autism

Inspiring America: Meet Jory, an Amazing American Rhodes Scholar with Autism 1:54

Jory Fleming is not your average Rhodes Scholar.

He may have a perfect GPA but the University of South Carolina student has a number of disabilities — not the least of which is autism.

Despite the challenges, Fleming is one of just 32 Americans who will study next fall at Oxford University as an esteemed Rhodes Scholar.

"I was very surprised," Fleming, 22, told NBC News. "I thought they got the name wrong."

As a child, his mother said he checked every box on the autism spectrum: screaming, hypersensitivity, no eye contact, incapable of communication.

Kelly Fleming was desperate to help her son.

"I don't think there was a magic key," she told NBC News. "There was a whole lot that I tried and didn't work."

What did work was "Federer," a small bird mom gave her son when he was younger. Fleming could communicate with his feathered friend in ways he could not with his peers.

"Of course animals don't use language to communicate, so it was kind of like me," he told NBC News. "I'd rather not use language too sometimes."

Fleming said his mind was filled with images, not words, but Federer helped him connect them. He would voraciously process everything he saw. Fleming said he could read over his notes for an exam and the notes would just appear in his mind as he took the exam, an exceptionally advanced photographic memory that allowed him an opportunity to excel academically despite his disability.

"My goal was not to change him, it was really to bring out the best in him," said Kelly Fleming. "I can't change his brain and the way he's thinking but I can change how it's used."

She gave up a medical career to home school her son. And she'll accompany him to Oxford in the fall.

The journey to the prestigious British university, he said, was not without its "potholes and bumps" but he hopes his story can inspire others living with disabilities.

"I think that everybody can have something that they can contribute," said Fleming. "They just might not know how."