Hi everyone and Happy New Year!! I hope 2012 is your best year yet! I am brand new to Autisable and so excited to start connecting with you all and learning more about you. I decided that a good start would probably be to tell you all about myself and answer the #1 question I get….”What made you get involved with Autism?” Just to get things straight, I happen to capitalize “Autism.” Sometimes people criticize me for that, but in my opinion if Autism is dominating the world right now, then it deserves a capital “A”. Anyway…
I started working with Autism in 2007, shortly before I graduated college. I was at that point in my life where I was graduating and had no idea where my life was going. I was working towards my Bachelors degree in Psychology and was double minoring in Sociology & Criminology (fun fact: I was 2 classes shy of minoring in Spanish. I still count it, I took it all through high school and college!). I was working at Donald Trump’s golf course, and although there is obvious potential with the Trump Organization, I knew that wouldn’t make me happy. I didn’t want some career that I hated, and was just a means to pay bills. That’s average and why be average? It’s just as close to the bottom as it is to the top. So one day at work, a colleague brought his son in who had Autism. I noticed he stayed alone, often in a corner, not speaking to anyone. What I noticed the MOST, was the way people acted towards him- several just ignored him, others acted as if he was contaminated. I remember being really bothered by this, and at the front desk computer I started googling “Autism” (my classes mentioned it but BARELY touched upon it). Once I saw I could work with Autism just with a Bachelors degree- and in PSYCHOLOGY nonetheless, I was so excited and knew I had to give it a try.
To make things even better, I learned a brand new school for Autism was just built in my town to hold 250 kids! I remember being so scared and totally out of my element as I just plain showed up at the school and asked if they were hiring. I had no experience, and was graduating in eight months…and they hired me! Of course I wanted to work with the little kids (I worked at a daycare in high school- the Toddler room!) and figured it would be a good fit. On my first day, I was shocked and terrified to find out I was placed in the Secondary classroom, which consisted of teenagers 13-17 years old..and they were all bigger than me. Long story short, I absolutely loved that room and from that day forward, requested to work with teenagers and adults (no offense little kids!). Most people are surprised by this, teens and adults are stereotyped as being much more difficult and not as “fun.” Not the case at all. I had the best time with them. I always want to do more and more, and was so intrigued by Autism I wanted to be trained thoroughly and really get into the analysis of it. I was hired September 2008 by Princeton Child Development Institute (PCDI), which is regarded as the world leader in the research and treatment of Autism. Needless to say, I got the absolute best training available of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) AND got to work in the adult program with individuals ranging from 17 years old to 45 years old! I learned more there than my whole time in college studying Psychology. It is constant hands on training that I am so grateful for. I worked as a Life Coach, and got to spend quality time at group homes, the workplace, and in the school setting with these individuals and had such a great time. It was so much more than a job- you really form a bond with them, like family.
On December 5, 2009 my life changed forever when I was crowned Miss New Jersey International 2010. I hit the ground running, and had obviously made Autism my platform. I made over 100 appearances during my reigning year on behalf of Autism. I spoke to thousands of people, volunteered with countless organizations and best of all made people aware of Autism and the high rate, especially here in NJ. It was the most amazing year of my life. I was invited to the State Assembly twice, the State Senate, and was awarded by my town. Rutgers University named me an Outstanding Alumnae and I was invited to be one of two speakers at the annual prestigious Zagoren Lecture. Bloomingdale’s named me one of four influential women in NJ and I got to be part of a Sam Edelman campaign! I served as the International Spokesperson for the Luca John Foundation, a 2010 & 2011 Chair for Central NJ Autism Speaks, a NJ Spokesperson for the American Lung Association and countless more amazing honors! My title came to an end in March 2011, and I decided to give pageants one more shot..and was crowned Miss NJ Galaxy 2011, and went on to the worldwide pageant to compete for the title of Miss Galaxy. There began another year advocating for Autism! Here we are today, my time as a titleholder is almost up but I am only moving on to bigger and better things. I am going to continue to advocate for Autism, and tomorrow am visiting a school in NJ called Celebrate the Children. I am beyond excited to hangout with them all day!!