Having a child diagnosed with a disability can be a challenging experience for a parent. Deron Williams knows this as well as anyone.
Three years ago, Deron and his wife Amy learned that their son Deron Jr. — D.J. — was autistic.
“We adopted DJ and the two of us got very close,” Deron said. “Actually, from all my kids, he’s the one who always liked being with me most – a real daddy’s boy. Anyway, at 18 months he gets diagnosed with autism and I’m like wow! I heard of it but what exactly is there to do?”
Deron and Amy had two daughters -— Denae and Daija -— before adding D.J. to the family.
“Deron and I thought we were done with our two kids,” said Amy, who has since given birth to their second son, Desmond. “I think it was something where we wanted a boy and the longer we tried and it wasn’t happening, I started thinking, ‘We’re going to get a girl anyway so we have to stop…I’m actually adopted. So it was something I always wanted to do, just because I always wanted to do the same thing my parents did for me.”
Amy recalled when the family first received the diagnosis for Deron Jr.—- aka D.J.—- and how Deron took the news.
“When he got diagnosed it was really hard on Deron because it was his first son and they both had a really deep connection.”
While D-Will was making his decision in free agency, the Nets franchise, set for a move to Brooklyn, was a major draw, not just for on-court reasons. The family learned of a highly regarded school for autistic children in New York, which was a huge check in the “pros” column.
Ultimately, No. 8 joined the Nets. And as they’ve dealt with the challenges that go along with having a child with autism, Deron and Amy have also been working to help other families like their own.
“With autism, families live through different stages… first, there’s denial. ‘Not my kid!’ You know, so many refuse to have their kid tested. But that’s the single most important thing to do. They need to get in there and give it their all.” Deron says. “The earlier people know, the faster they can do something positive.”
They’ve partnered with Autism Speaks, an organization for which Deron has become an ambassador, and put on several events through Deron’s Point of Hope Foundation to raise money and awareness for the disorder.
“What’s important is that the message gets out. People need to face autism head on. I understand what these families are going through because of my own history. Twenty years ago, few people would have spoken about it. Lots of kids had it but there wasn’t much in the way of help. Today, it’s easier to do something relevant – we can raise awareness, get it diagnosed, we can respond and find ways to tackle some of the symptoms.”
Point of Hope now hosts several annual events in conjunction with Autism Speaks. Deron and Amy host an annual Christmas event for single mothers and parents of children with autism. D-Will also champions a yearly Autism Awareness Night at Barclays Center, where he donates his suite and urges others to do the same to provide an enjoyable environment for families with autism at Nets games.
Additionally, proceeds from many of Deron’s other events—including his signature Dodge Barrage celebrity dodgeball tournament—go toward promoting awareness and research for autism.
For Deron, promoting autism awareness is his biggest cause off the court, but it all goes back to that special relationship with his son.
“He doesn’t want to go anywhere without me,” Deron says. “He’s gotten better, especially going to school now. But anywhere I went he’d hug onto my leg. So we have a great relationship. We play a lot. Even though he’s autistic, he’s still a smart kid and he’s bright in his own way.”
To learn more about autism, visit AutismSpeaks.org.