If you start a conversation with Pierson Johnson, he’ll probably tell you about Fortnite and his other favorite Playstation games.
He’s happy to show off his collection of graphic novels and tell stories of his friends at school or the summer fun he had with his cousins. He’s looking forward to his school’s upcoming fall dance.
Although he just started sixth grade, he’s thinking about becoming an artist, if his goal of becoming an Olympic swimmer doesn’t work out.
It’s hard to imagine that Pierson was once a little boy so overwhelmed by stress and anxiety that he hardly spoke.
He’s come such a long way, said his mother, Emily Johnson.
“He’s really learning how to have a voice, to express himself and stand up for himself,” she said.
When he started elementary school, Pierson, who is on the autism spectrum, had a severe speech delay. This caused him a lot of anxiety around talking at school and asking questions, Emily said.
Because he didn’t have the words or tools to express himself, he would often suffer in silence, until the pressure would build up and he’d act out at home.
“In first grade, I’d put my head down and cry and wouldn’t ask for help, I’d be so frustrated,” he said. “I was really looking down on myself.”
Things began to turn around in second grade as Pierson made progress in speech therapy and gained more confidence. He also began working with counselors to learn to cope with his anxiety.
He had a great teacher who helped him navigate stressful situations, like spelling words and timed math tests, and a principal who took him under his wing.
“I tell Pierson, ‘Everyone has a team,’” Emily said. “He has a phenomenal support system.”
Pierson started raising his hand in class and shared more about what he was feeling inside. Now when something bothers him, he talks to his mom and tries some of the coping strategies that work for him — singing it out, dancing it out, resting or watching a movie.
“It really helped me, when I started asking for help,” he said. “You may be worried that people might be mad at you, but they really won’t be.”
Now that he’s 11, Pierson’s fun personality shines through. He’s very good at science, but also likes art class and English language arts.
He and his friends are excited to be some of the first students in the new Watkins Middle School when it opens later this year.
As he’s gotten older, he’s taken on more household chores and is a great big brother to his little sister Peyton
He cares deeply about others and has an interest in helping those who are homeless, Emily said.
When he thinks back on how far he’s come, Pierson said he’s very proud of himself.
“I’m a good friend,” he said. “I’m nice and caring and responsible and very loyal.”