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Julie's Joy: Blessed Beyond Words

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.