This Heart of Autism post tells the story of Bill Franklin, a talented and generous 19-year-old jewelry designer on the autism spectrum. In the post below, his mother Linda shares his story with us.
Although we knew practically from birth that Bill was "special", he was formally diagnosed with PDD-NOS when he was 4 years old. In the early years, he was very shy and withdrawn. At a very young age, Billy lost his language. He would tantrum and had extreme sensory needs. He loved his little trains, but when we would try to engage with him, he would pick up his toys and run to another corner. At the time, not much was known about autism, so I had to do a lot of my own research. After years of speech, occupational and physical therapy, he improved.
When Bill was 16-years-old, his father passed away suddenly from pancreatic cancer. That experience made me even more determined to increase Bill's independence. I noticed how much he enjoyed beading jewelry when he went to camp, so I decided to purchase some books, magazines and supplies. We studied the books and he made a few bracelets. He told his teachers what he was doing and they encouraged him to bring them to school. He began selling them to other students and teachers. Bill calls himself "Soul Man Jewelry" and the kids at school refer to him as the "Jewelry Guy". In a high school with other 2,000 students, Billy has breached the gap and talks to "typical" classmates now.
Last summer he attended a camp called Carousel Connections, an overnight 12-day program where they concentrate on adaptive and Independent Living. Bill worked on the "Grounds Crew" and loved it. The group lived in an apartment on the campus at a local college where they had to take care of their needs. They all had chores and had to keep their rooms tidy and do their own laundry. He flourished. The cost was high, but through the Autism Speaks Baker Summer Camp grant, Bill was able to attend. Without that, we could not have afforded to send him. Seeing how well he did, I am confident that he will someday be able to live in a supported environment.
When he returned home, Bill decided that he would like to give a portion of his proceeds to Autism Speaks. He wants to allow other people on Spectrum to benefit like he did. He has a site on Etsy at www.etsy.com/shop/SoulManJewelry where you can purchase his work. This is what Bill posted on his Etsy site:
Hi. My name is Bill Franklin III. I was named after my father who passed away 3 years ago of Pancreatic Cancer. I am 19 years old and a Senior in high school.
I am on the Autism Spectrum and my obsession is jewelry. I love to make people happy and people seem to love my jewelry.
I am donating a portion of my proceeds to a wonderful group called Autism Speaks. Check out their site. They are a great resource for people on Spectrum.
Check out a video of Bill below:
Bill continues to improve. Every day is a new challenge for him, but he gets up prepared and waiting for the school bus. He takes joy in the simplest of things—sunsets, nature, or a new type of stone for his jewelry. He goes to school, volunteers at a local pet shelter, and works on his jewelry after he does his homework. We attend jewelry shows so he can pick out the materials he wants to use. He takes great pride in what he does. His life has meaning.
For more Heart of Autism stories, click here! If you have other ideas for this series that highlights individuals with autism giving back to the autism community, we would love to hear from you! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.