SUGAR GROVE – Richard Williams was nearly 15 years old when he found out he had autism. That discovery changed his life.
Williams, a Sugar Grove resident, and his family had known of some issues for a long time. There was frustration when he couldn’t achieve certain tasks. His motor skills weren’t developed properly – for instance, it took him longer to learn to tie his shoes.
But instead of the autism news being something to dread, it was something to embrace, Williams said.
“Once I found out that I had autism, things got a lot easier,” he said. “I started overcoming a lot of my problems.”
Now 19 years old, Williams speaks clearly and confidently of doing what he can to help others in such situations. Long involved in Scouting, he and his father, Sean, helped launch the Aurora-based Venturing Crew 88 last year. It is for those with special needs. Richard Williams is the president of the group. Sean Williams is the crew adviser, and Duane Welte is the committee chairman.
Others in the group are Daniel Escamilla of St. Charles, Stewart Hansen of Montgomery and Andrew Krawczyk of Aurora. Krawczyk is the vice president. The group has existed since September, and members meet on the first two Tuesdays of each month at New England Congregational Church, 406 W. Galena Blvd., Aurora.
The group has been active in teaching essential life skills. Group members have done a public transportation trip, in which they boarded a bus, then changed buses for a visit to a mall. They learned to buy transfers and explained to leaders where they were headed and how they were getting there. There was an awareness night in which other Scout groups were brought in to simulate the experience of those with special needs. And most recently, they went to Fifth Third Bank and started their own accounts to learn financial skills.
Next month, members will cook dinner for their parents. They will serve meat loaf.
Sean Williams said he found inspiration in the way his son reacted when he learned he had autism. Williams had just finished eighth grade at Aurora Christian, and he was to become a freshman at Kaneland High School. He had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder long before, but now he knew more.
“Richard said, ‘I don’t want a cure. Part of this autism is who I am, and I like who I am. I wouldn’t change a thing,’ ” Sean Williams said.
According to www.autismspeaks.org, autism spectrum disorder and autism are general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. The disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.
Richard Williams said his goal is to live as independently as possible, but there is much to overcome. For instance, he said he doesn’t drive because he is fearful that something could go wrong that could put others in danger. But he said that his goals wouldn’t be the same as others who have autism. Each person is different, so he stressed that people shouldn’t make assumptions about autism based on knowing one person who has the disorder.
“That just means you know one person with autism,” he said. “Each person is different in what they experience. Some senses can be dialed up, and some senses can be dialed down.”
He is attending classes at Aurora University, and he said he is considering going into the special-needs field. Sean Williams said there are not enough opportunities for those who have autism, especially once they are out of school. One of the Scouting group’s aims is to develop skills that are essential, but more can be done.
That Williams would aspire to help others succeed is not surprising to John Markovich, who is the school psychologist at Kaneland High School. He worked with Williams at Kaneland, and he said the student displayed leadership qualities. For instance, he said Williams’ Eagle Scout project involved team-building stations. And he said the fact that Williams is so open about autism is a plus.
“He just came out and talked about his story. ... It’s not typical to see a kid, on the autism spectrum, be confident enough to tell their story,” Markovich said.
Sean Williams said the goal of Venturing Crew 88 is to welcome more members into the group. Those interested may visitscoutlander.com and select “Directory.” From there, select “Venturing Crew 88.” Or, call Sean Williams at 630-846-6910 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.