Weaving gives family hope for man with autism

Billy DeMink weaves. (June 2014)

RICHLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — A Richland family says a craft has helped give their son, who has autism, purpose and changed their lives for the better.

Billy DeMink, 21, was diagnosed with autism in 1995. He is typically non-verbal, though he can echo phrases.

His mother Nancy DeMink said there were not many resources available for Billy when he was diagnosed at age 2.

“When the diagnosis came, I thought it was bleak. I didn’t know what we were going to do, if he would live with us for the rest of his life or what would happen,” said DeMink.

When Billy was 18, he was introduced to weaving in school.

“It was just natural for him. He just picked it up and enjoyed it at school. It’s something we can have here in our home that was easy enough for him to learn,” DeMink said.

Now, Billy can often be found at his loom, surrounded by bags of colorful fabric, piles of thread and carefully woven rugs. DeMink has to help a little, she said, but Billy does most of the work himself.

Billy DeMink weaves. (June 2014)
(Billy DeMink weaves.)

The hobby turned into a project that the DeMink family called “Weaving Hope.” Billy, with the help of his mother, wove 140 rugs for families in New Jersey who lost their homes to Superstorm Sandy. Since then, they have continued to weave rugs.

DeMink said her son does not fully understand what he is doing.

“He has no concept of what this is all about for him. He weaves the rugs, but he doesn’t realize he sells them. He doesn’t realize he’s got a little job here and doesn’t realize what any of this means,” DeMink said.

DeMink said the weaving is a way to advocate for Billy and other families and show there is a future for their children.

“This helps show parents that there is hope and possibilities. You might have to create them yourself and you might have to look for the talents that they have and then make a job out of it, but there are some great possibilities,” DeMink told 24 Hour News 8.

DeMink said a recent $4 million grant to Western Michigan University for training more health professionals in the autism field will be beneficial to families who rely on resources to help them.

“This grant is perfect. They’re bringing more and more services. If we had what we have today, Billy would be talking. Billy’s life would be entirely different for him, so it’s exceptional for new parents because you can get in faster, you can find services and get the behaviors and treatments,” said DeMink.

DeMink hopes to open a store one day for Billy to sell his rugs. His family has already been contacted by a store in Manhattan called “Classic Rug Collection” about selling the rugs.

He will have a booth at the Richland Art Fair on July 19.

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