I’ve known from a very young age how individuals can look, learn, live differently but still lead such a beautiful, independent, meaningful and engaging life. I learned this because of my cousin, Rebecca, who was born with a rare genetic disorder called Phelan McDermid Syndrome, which leaves her unable to speak. It really is amazing to be able to say that one person changed my life without ever saying one word.
My cousin is only two years younger than me and growing up less than five minutes from each other, I had an instant and natural instinct to be drawn to her. We spent countless hours at the school that my aunt and uncle founded for kids with special needs in New Jersey, watching her learn and grow. It was beautiful to see the supports and services she was receiving, as hard as it was for my aunt and uncle to get them, they’re advocacy was truly inspiring and will always be.
For a long time, I thought I would be a journalist and study journalism in college. I’ll never forget a random Friday night going to a Mexican restaurant with my family and having this epiphany, breakthrough moment, that instead I actually wanted to pursue Special Education. In college, I studied Special Education with an autism concentration, and also middle grades education. One of the highlights of my undergraduate experience was working at The Arc of Chester County, an organization that provides supports and services to individuals living with disabilities, of all ages and abilities. I worked as a recreational counselor, providing my clients with incredible social and community opportunities. It solidified my decision to work in this field and really showed me that regardless of your age or ability, you deserve to live a beautiful meaningful life.
After college, I moved back home to the New York area and got a job at an incredible school for kids with autism, ages 5 to 21. Very quickly, I advocated to work with the teenagers as I found community, life and social opportunities so important for setting individuals up for success after school life. Working in this field is definitely not easy, it comes with its ups and downs and challenges, but I wouldn’t change it for the world and I’m so excited to see what’s next for my career and within this community. While I know I have so much to teach the incredible individuals in this community as an educator, I also have so much to learn from them, and for that, I'm forever grateful. I know I was meant to work in this field and will continue to advocate for this incredible community in population every day. I want to continue making an impact on this community, raising awareness and acceptance. I am inspired every day by Extra Lucky Moms, founded by two beautiful mothers who live their lives with passion, strength, love, and support. Is it inspiring and I’m so grateful to be a part of this community. We need more people like Jess and Taryn who have leaned into Down Syndrome, creating a beautiful community with love, support, and opportunities, regardless of hurdles that may come.
Written by Julie Singer