Johnnie Dennis III, age 20, lives in Tipp City with his parents and younger brother. With a father in the U.S. Air Force, Johnnie’s family moved around a bit when he was younger, but it was around the age of 2 when his pediatrician and family began to wonder if he might have autism.
“When we lived in Alabama, we were in a ‘Mommy and me’ music class. I started noticing that other kids younger than him had more language,” said Johnnie’s mother, Rugenia. “I reached back out to his pediatrician and Child Find. Soon after that he was diagnosed with severe speech delay.”
From there, Rugenia explained that Johnnie’s speech therapist recommended more evaluation. In 2005, before he turned 3, Johnnie was diagnosed with autism.
“I was crushed, but then I looked into what I could do … anything I could read about I was willing to try. I was just devoted to him, wanting him have the best outcome in life,” Rugenia said.
Johnnie was homeschooled up until kindergarten, then attended a class for children with different disabilities in kindergarten, and from second grade until graduated from Stebbins High School, there was an aide in his classroom for extra support.
Johnnie had fun in high school, playing on the bowling and E-sports teams. He was also a member of the Leo service club, a branch of Lions Club International.
After graduating in 2021, Johnnie began the Tartan TOPS (Transition Option in Post-Secondary Education) program at Sinclair Community College, which provides an educational and career pathway for part-time students who have an intellectual disability. He graduated from Tartan TOPS in December 2022, and continues taking classes as a traditional student at Sinclair. He is majoring in Cartography, learning to make maps with a Geographic Information System. In February 2023, Johnnie was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa honor society and has made Dean’s List multiple times. After Sinclair, Johnnie hopes to attend Wright State University to earn a bachelor’s degree and eventually begin a career as a cartographer, designing maps.
When he isn’t in school or studying, Johnnie enjoys bowling league at Wright Patt AFB, playing softball, volleyball, swimming with Miami County Special Olympics, participating in Aktion Club, advocacy, BINGO, cardio drumming and many other activities through Riverside.
“Johnnie never gives up,” Rugenia said. “He tries he wants to be successful just like anyone else. I love his determination and he has such a sweet gentle personality. He’s a man of few words, but he is a pleasure to be around.”
When asked about what he would want people to know about him, Johnnie replied, “I like people.”