DOWNERS GROVE – Zach Steele felt judged during his freshman year at Downers Grove North High School. But now he's reaching out to put an end to that judgment.
Zach, who has high-functioning autism, has petitioned the school and Community High School District 99 to promote autism awareness.
In his petition letter, posted at www.change.org, Zach said he could tell other kids were judging him and making assumptions about his ability level.
The petition, which had 1,739 signatures as of early June 23, requests the school start a program at Downers Grove North to create awareness about disabilities.
Zach, who will be a sophomore this fall, has met with school representatives and they have been receptive. The wheels are already in motion to raise the awareness Zach wants to see.
"We're going to start a club next year," he said.
Kimberley Steele, Zach's mom, said she supports what her son is trying to accomplish.
"High school's hard enough and to have a disability … that's why he wanted to create autism awareness," she said.
Kimberley said she is proud of everything her son has done so far.
"It took a lot of courage for him to be his own advocate," she said.
Zach is also happy with the response to his efforts.
"I thought it was only going to get a couple hundred [signatures] maybe. But it got bigger," he said.
The petition has been circulated a lot online. NUBS, a nonprofit social welfare organization, has been promoting it online to get as many signatures as possible. Kristin Ludwig, managing director of NUBS, said someone forwarded the petition to the group and they instantly decided to help.
"[The school] will work on an awareness day at Downers Grove North, what we would like people to know to increase awareness and sensitivity," she said. "It's really about educating the general population of students about kids like Zach."
Ludwig said she's impressed with what Zach has done. She said he's hard-working and passionate about his cause.
"I've never seen a kid like him," Ludwig said.
Jill Browning, director of communications for District 99, said school staff are always eager to work with students with new ideas to make the school community a better place.
"The school is very supportive of his endeavor and we're excited to see what kind of ideas come up," she said.
Browning said the petition was started at the end of the school year, but some preliminary work was done regarding a club and more specifics should become available once school reconvenes in the fall.
Sign the petition
Zach's petition can be found online at shawurl.com/1z52.