My story began fifteen years ago. I owned and operated an art studio where I taught painting and I sold my artwork through artisan events and local businesses. One day the phone rang and all of that changed. My husband, at age forty, was diagnosed with cancer and our life took a huge turn. On top of the diagnosis, he also learned that the company he worked for was closing their location due to a merger. This meant he was losing his job within a few short months. As a result of the closing, we lost our health care benefits, his life insurance and his job as he headed into major surgery and recovery. Needless to say, it was a very challenging time for our family. We had two boys ages nine and twelve at the time as we tried to figure out how to deal with this new situation. As a result, we had to make some life changing decisions.
I was forced to close the art studio and instead find a position that provided affordable healthcare and work hours that kept our family life stable. I was blessed with finding a job as a para-professional at a local school. My assignment as a para-professional was to support a child with autism with academic instruction and learning tasks within daily activities. Having two young children of my own, I felt I was up for the challenge. Little did I know that this experience and child would change my life forever. I poured all of my free time into learning more about autism and understanding teaching strategies to increase the child’s communication and learning skills. There was so much information; it was overwhelming. How to determine the good information from the bad was difficult, especially due to my limited background in this area. I worked with school professionals to hone my skills and took one day at a time. This child and I were learning together. By the end of the year, the child was making great gains, and I was considering a career change.
That year, though tragic in some ways, was full of bright, new opportunities for our family. I am happy to say that my husband is now cancer free and enjoying a new career. After two years in public schools and at the age of 40, I attended college for the first time and completed a BS and MS in Special Education with additional certification in Elementary Education K-5. Due to my experience with children with autism, I knew that becoming a Behavior Analyst was also critical, so I included that in my coursework and in 2010, I officially became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).
It’s been an amazing experience ever since. For the past eight years, I have served as an Educational Consultant and BCBA for the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN) that assists in implementing initiatives of the PA Department of Education/Bureau of Special Education across the state. I trained teachers, administrators, specialists, support staff and parents. I supported children of all ages across the state of Pennsylvania using researched-based practices, such as Applied Behavior Analysis and Verbal Behavior, to advance the skills of learners with autism and other developmental disabilities. Learn more about my experience.
So many children and people have touched my life in profound ways during this career journey. Through my own life challenges and through supporting the challenges of others, I have learned a great deal. My combined experiences as a para-professional, adult student of Special Education, teacher, educational consultant, BCBA and parent, have provided me with valuable and unique skills. I do not have a child with a disability, but I understand what it means to face personal challenges with uncertainty about the future. My experiences have made me a better teacher, professional, and person.
As I move forward in life, I want to increase the scale of my impact on autism education by creating online platforms for people to grow in their knowledge, make connections with others, and spread their knowledge. I had the opportunity to work with children with disabilities in China and saw the international training need firsthand. Therefore, I also want to provide learning opportunities for other countries where this information and training is not readily accessible. I look forward to our journey together and to our improving the lives of individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities and their families. Thanks for visiting and learning more about me.