Local autistic woman receives national award

Katie Grimes, an autistic 20-year-old Federal Way college student, will receive one of Girl Scouts’ highest honors Saturday in Washington, D.C.

Grimes will be one of 11 recipients of the Girl Scouts Young Women of Distinction award, and will meet with several political luminaries, including Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Grimes, a sophomore at Washington State University, is being honored for her work with the parents of autistic children in Federal Way. She organized meetings, scheduled speakers and designed a brochure on autism.

“I started this as a project for the Girl Scouts in high school, when I was having the hardest time personally,” Grimes said. “I knew it would help me to have a support group, so I thought it would help others to know they were not alone in their struggles.”

Grimes is considered a high-functioning autistic person, and was originally looking for others like her to join the group. “We decided to broaden the scope of it to the families of autistic children,” she said. “These parents have a lot of hardships and pain they have to deal with.”

There’s generally not much support for families of autistic children, Grimes said. The group helped them find resources and offered some emotional support.

There are now about 90 families involved in the group, which is headed by Laurel Taggart, the mother of an autistic 4-year-old boy. Taggart said she was introduced to the group by Grimes.

“I called her and asked if she thought it would be good for me,” Taggart said. “She encouraged me to join.”

Being autistic was difficult during her teens, Grimes related.

“I was having trouble getting into the school system and behaving inappropriately in class. I was different,” she said.

She also met some resistance from her teachers. “Some didn’t believe I had a disability, because I was smart, I could write and discuss things intelligently in class,” Grimes said.

At WSU, Grimes has a double major in biology and German. “I’ve always been interested in nature and animals,” she said. She hopes to go into herpetology, the study of reptiles and amphibians.

As for her affinity for foreign languages, Grimes said she enjoys the challenge. “German has been a passion since high school,” she said.

The award ceremony today in Washington, D.C., is part of a celebration recognizing the Girl Scouts’ 90th anniversary. Grimes and the other honorees will meet Elizabeth Dole, the former president of the American Red Cross; Alma Powell, wife of Secretary of State Colin Powell; clothing designer Vera Wang; and several U.S. senators.

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