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Josh Edwards, senior in social work, reads his book for midterms. Edwards is a student here at Pitt State working on a project made for special needs students. Laikyn Long

Pitt State student creates program for youth with disabilities

Joshua Edwards, senior in social work wants to revolutionize how we look at the world. 

Edwards has created Outliers Unlimited, a program geared toward informing people about youth with disabilities.  He believes people who stand out can accomplish and represent great ideals.  Edwards holds these issues close to heart because he has had to overcome multiple challenges himself.  

“When I was a kid, I was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome just shy of fourteen,” Edwards said.   

Asperger syndrome is classified as an autism spectrum disorder, characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests.   

Edwards said he came up with the idea for Outliers Unlimited from a book he read for one of his first social work courses at Pitt State. 

“(That book talked) about people like Bill Gates, the Beatles and….Bill Joyce, and how they applied what they were good at—their talent—for hundreds of thousands of hours,” Edwards said.  “The more I read about this, the more I thought about people like Einstein, Walt Disney and Jim Henson…a lot of them had developmental disabilities.  The more I thought of them, the more I thought of people that I know who wanted to be just like them; people who were interested in things I (was), who also had disabilities,” he said.  

Joshua said he began realize he wasn’t alone—that there must be others who have had experiences similar to his.  

“… How do I know that someone doesn’t feel the same way I do in another state, or another part of the world without realizing it,” Edwards said.  “I wanted to give them that chance (to share their experiences) and that’s kind of why it’s called Outliers Unlimited.”  

Joshua grew up in Blue Valley, Kansas.  In 2011, he graduated from high school with national honors.  He transferred from Johnson County Community College to Pittsburg State University, where he found his niche in the social work program. 

“Outliers Unlimited is a series of video interviews for a You Tube channel that I’m hoping will one day open up to a bigger counseling program for youth with disabilities,” Edwards said.  “My interviews are to give people a chance to tell their stories; to tell about their disabilities and the challenges they face,” he said. 

Edwards is particularly interested in how developmental disabilities influence a youth’s academic life. 

“Unfortunately, because a lot of people don’t know about disabilities, it can lead to bullying or ridicule, Edwards said, “(youth with disabilities) can be kind of excluded (from) or not included (in) society.” 

Joshua said he hopes his program will give people a chance to get to know youth with disabilities better.      

“None of us are that different,” Edwards said.  “I mean we all share the same world.  We’re all human, and we shouldn’t have to treat ourselves any differently.” 

Edwards said he was fortunate growing up because he found mountains of support from his family and people within his community.  Eli Kanarek was Joshua’s teacher and case worker for four years.  Kanarek was pivotal in Edwards graduating from high school.  

“Mr. Kanarek was a big influence on me on me personally,” Edwards said.  “The man was just incredible.  He encouraged me…to graduate high school right there and then.  There was a little debate as to whether or not I should finish…but he believed that I should graduate and just go off as planned, and see what happens.” 

Edwards said he faced challenges with social skills while he was in high school. 

“Susan Fisher was a teacher I had,” Edwards said, “she did what was called ‘interpersonal skills’ that kind of helps with social skills that some kids don’t necessarily inherit naturally,” he said, “they kind of have to be acquired, and that’s a big issue today.” 

Edwards said he hopes to conduct the interviews for the Outliers Unlimited project as soon as possible.  He invites people who are interested to reach out to him at outliersunlimited2000@gmail.com. 

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