HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. — It's hard not to smile when hanging out with Willie Schandel.
“I'm a happy guy, you know. I mean, like living life to the fullest," Schandel said.
Schandel has worked at Wind Crest Senior Living Community, prepping food in the kitchen, for more than a year.
“I am a prep cook," Schandel said. “It's really the most amazing job that a guy can have.”
When not in the kitchen, Schandel goes by the name 'Wild Willie.'
“I started singing around 3 years old. And that gave me my voice. Honestly, that's the same time when I started speaking," said Schandel. “By 15, I started playing guitar. And I took the ball and ran with it, and I've been playing for the past 13 years.”
Schandel started speaking at 3 years old, which was the same age he was diagnosed with autism.
"It’s both my blessing and my superpower, but also my curse," Schandel said. “Sometimes I run on the slow side, and sometimes I can't process as normally, like people would say. The good side about it is you get incredible memory. And also you're able to see things that people don't really normally see and don't understand.”
Growing up, Schandel dealt with personal struggles, and turned to music when things got hard.
“During high school, I went through a lot of depression. Honestly, when I was a kid, I guess I was insecure, just lonely," Schandel explained. “You're still standing, you're still breathing, is proof that you survived it.”
Music has always been a release for Schandel, who now plays guitar and sings in a band called Resistful Misfit. He feels he has always been himself when playing music.
“It really works wonders," said Schandel. “It awakens another part of you that never had before... It really guided me through the roughest times in my life, and it’s my biggest savior in my life.”
Schandel hopes his story inspires others to do what makes them happy.
“In the real world I work a day job, 9 to 5. But when I'm on stage, I feel like I'm in a totally different world," said Schandel.
Schandel said he cannot picture his life without music, and said it will always help him when times are tough.
“I'm going to play music until pretty much when I'm 100 years old," said Schandel. "So, that's my future.”
A study from 2018 claims to show the "first evidence that 8–12 weeks of individual music intervention can indeed improve social communication and functional brain connectivity, lending support to further investigations of neurobiologically motivated models of music interventions in autism" for school-age children.