“If you can’t find someone who brightens up your day, then be that person who brightens up everyone’s day.” William “The Gentleman” DeYonker
By Ron Sandison
William J. DeYonker experienced severe sensory issues and meltdowns leading to an autism diagnosis at age four. He was behind in his speech development and unable to say complete sentences or words.
“One of the early signs of autism was not being able to sit down at a family dinner. I wasn’t able to sit down because I felt like I had to move and I did not know this was an important family time. So, I wasn’t fully aware of it because I didn’t know any better about the situation. Another was banging my head on the basement door at our first home. My parents didn’t know why I was banging my head at the time, but they kept telling me ‘no’ to stop banging my head. I knew I could hear, but I didn’t know how to reciprocate,” William shares.
After the diagnosis his parents’ researched autism. His dad through a friend learned about Judevine School for Autism in St. Louis, Missouri. The Judevine’s therapy program enabled William to develop communication and social skills.
“My mom learned about the therapy provided by Judevine back in 1996 and from there, she learned how to incorporate their teachings in practical life lessons such as placing words on multiple objects around the house and having me pronounce the words. Through this technique, I learned the name and purpose of common household items. This program also provided my mom with social stories on how kids interact with one another and helped me to interact socially.”
Intense therapy was required for William to learn basic life skills.
“The therapies I received as a child were positive reinforcement techniques and discreet trial training (DTT). Positive reinforcement techniques was the most effective for me because the trials were more about getting the individual with autism to do the tasks you want him to accomplish for the day without having him get frustrated. When my mom provided therapy, she took the skills I learned in those sessions out into the community by us going grocery shopping, and then go to a toy and/or book store where she would buy new books or toys for me. In other words, a little bit of what my mom wants to do for the family and a little bit of what I like to do to make my family happy.”
After watching the Disney movie Pinocchio at age four, William discovered a new passion the game of pool.
“My interest was sparked by the scene where Pinocchio was playing pool and smoking cigars with another character on Pleasure Island. This one shot where the cue ball hopped over one pool ball and landed on another was the birth of my passion. Afterwards, my parents took our family to my Uncle Steve’s home and I saw a pool table in the basement. While my family and relatives were outside socializing, I was busy throwing pool balls around on the table. This moment marked the beginning of my 20 plus years journey in pool and trick shots.”
Visualization, attention to detail, routines, and concentration has empowered William to perfect trick shots.
“With the video reel playing in my head over the years on movies and TV shows, I was able to take that in my head and put it towards my obsession with pool. This gift enables me to visualize how the trick shot is done. My ability to concentration and follow routines helps me to setup shots and continually practice the trick-shots on a 40-hour a week basis.
“I was nervous during competitions, but I somehow figured out how to stay calm during the whole entire time competing. Once the focus was there from the beginning of my competition along with dieting, it helped me accomplish amazing results in a short period of time—from being 20th in the world rankings to 1st in just two-and-a-half years. What began as shooting pool balls on the table as a young kid; helped me to develop a picture reel memory in my head. Recalling with exact detail every trick shots I learned over the years from practicing on the pool table upstairs at our colonial home in Ann Arbor.”
William is currently one of the top-ranked trick shots players in the world whose skill has lead to him winning many awards.
“One of the championship titles I won was the ESPN Qualifier Champion back in 2016. I had little sleep and was sharing a hotel room with a friend of mine who snored a lot the night before. But somehow I pushed through, lived off of fruit, water, and muffins and played through the whole day from 11 am to 10 pm. It was at Shooter’s Billiards in Hartford, Connecticut. I was playing against some of the legendary pool trick shot artists at the time. But along the way, I was able to defeat them by a hair. That was unheard of because they were unbeatable for anyone who has just started competing in pool trick-shot tournaments. It was either luck or I had help from the man upstairs.”
William’s biggest fan is his mom.
“When I found the craft I liked, my mom always supported me 100% with whatever it was, like going to tournaments and things like that.”
Some advice William gives to be a world class pool player, “Be humble when competing against other trick shot artists, and understand that you are only doing your shots for your own points. If you try to show you’re better than the other players, you’ll never achieve success.”
William’s toughest obstacles to overcome was social skills.
“After my mom told me I had autism at age fifteen – the greatest challenge I experienced was engaging with my peers. I found it easier to engage with people at least 10 years older than me because they understood how to interact with people and what’s really important in life.”
William discovered inspiration in “Do not be anxious about anything.” (Philippians 4:16). This verse helped him overcome his fear of trying new things and imparted a confidence in unfamiliar social surroundings like college to make new friends.
William attended Washtenaw Community College (WCC) for four years and then Madonna University for another three. After graduating high school, William attended WCC to improve his reading comprehension and writing skills. In 2012, William took his first college video course and was a natural.
“That was when I excelled in academics and my creativity thrived. After I graduated from Washtenaw with an associate degree in digital video production, I transferred to Madonna University and received a scholarship covering half of my tuition for each semester.”
William graduated from Madonna University with bachelor’s degree in Broadcast and Cinema Arts and with high honors.
William is employed full-time as the brand ambassador for Centria Healthcare Autism Services.
“I speak at schools and organizations on autism and share with them the great benefits people with autism provide to our word. When I speak at these places, I usually inform them there is no stigma on autism. Those with autism shouldn’t be overlooked or be under-rated as disabled individuals, but as individuals with special unique abilities. I use my story as an example to help reinforce the idea of a person with autism having unique abilities.
“Another job I have is brand ambassador which includes helping our marketing and film crew. I wear multiple hats with not just teaching the public about the importance of ABA therapy and sharing my life story, but working on projects that I’m highly skilled.”
William encourages parents, “Discover your child’s gifts by trying different activities he enjoys until you discover their niche—work. You can develop it into a career or social learning experiences. Do research on activities relating to your child’s interests and give him chances to pursue them. Believe God has given your child gifts and pray He will teach you to refine them.”
William’s advice to young adults with autism, “Keep being who you are. There isn’t another person like you and there never will be. Focus on your talents and keep learning how you can brighten people’s lives. If you can’t find someone who brightens up your day, then be that person who brightens up everyone’s day.”
William J. DeYonker, 27, was diagnosed at age 4 with autism. He is the #1 world ranked pool trick shot artist with the nickname “The Gentleman”. William graduated from Madonna University in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in Broadcast and Cinema Arts and with High Honors. He currently works at Centria Autism Services as the brand ambassador for the company.
Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of American. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes.
He frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016. You can contact Ron at his website www.spectruminclusion.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org