Award-winning Girl Scout Project Inspired Creator To Reveal Her Autism

By Angela Lo in the Seattle Times

Katie Grimes is not your typical college student. The 20-year-old from Federal Way has autism, a disorder she did not openly reveal until three years ago when she started working on a Girl Scout project.

That project became the Federal Way Autism Support Group, the community’s first support group for parents of autistic children. Grimes organized monthly meetings, scheduled speakers, distributed fliers and designed an autism-information booklet. The group now provides support for more than 90 families in the area.The project has earned Grimes, a sophomore at Washington State University, national recognition from the Girl Scouts. She and nine other women from across the country will be honored in Washington, D.C., next month as this year’s Young Women of Distinction. The award recognizes 10 young women who have provided an exceptional service to their community and shown great dedication to achievement.

The honorees will meet several U.S. senators and Supreme Court
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and participate in career-development training. Each will receive a $1,000 scholarship. They’ll also get to meet Elizabeth Dole, former president of the American Red Cross; Alma Powell, wife of Secretary of State Colin Powell; designer Vera Wang; and seven other women who have been named National Women of Distinction in honor of the Girl Scouts’ 90th anniversary.

More than 300 women were nominated by local councils as this year’s Young Women of Distinction. To be eligible, nominees must earn the Girl Scout Gold Award, the organization’s highest honor. The gold-award project is crafted by the scout who works with an adult volunteer to implement it over one to two years. “I was struck by (Katie’s) project because it was so inspiring,”said Colleen Ozolitis, manager for young-adult development services for the Girl Scouts’ local Totem Council, who nominated Grimes. “She was filling a need for something that didn’t exist when she was younger. The fact that this was such a personal thing for her was one of the reasons it succeeded.”

Autism is a developmental disorder that encompasses a broad spectrum of behaviors and levels of severity. Most people with autism struggle to communicate. In Grimes, the disorder manifested itself in language-development delays and social awkwardness. Grimes’determination and drive were key factors in her success, said her mother, Lisa Grimes. “She just would never accept that she couldn’t do this, that or the other.”

The support-group experience not only helped her realize the extent of her abilities but pushed her to disclose her disorder as well. “Early on in the project, I decided that I would let others know I have autism,” Grimes wrote in her project report. “This took courage; I had in the past felt ashamed of my disability. … However, I knew that doing so would help my project and provide a chance for others to know something of who I really am.”

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