A testament to faith, perseverance, and the encouragement of caring teachers
By Mary Lou Rosien
My daughter Anya is diagnosed with emotional dysregulation, Asperger’s (an autism spectrum disorder), low IQ, and cognitive delays. These disabilities impacted her ability to learn academically and function socially. Her belief in God, ability to consider different paths, and encouraging teachers have helped her in her journey. Today, she is a beautiful, high functioning young adult and the joy of my life. This is her story.
“[My disabilities] made it very hard for me to make friends or even communicate with people, because I didn’t know how to explain things verbally.
“I was one of those kids who always loved God … but at times I would get very stressed at my family and would freak out. (My family calls these ‘meltdowns.’) Yes, it is still hard for me to have problems that make me get angry at situations and things, but I have realized I have a God that I can pray to for help. God is my friend; I can talk to him.
“When I was in 6th grade I heard about Life Teen Mass and youth group. I knew some of my siblings went and I wanted to go, but it didn’t sound like my thing. I didn’t like to be separated from my mom, and she knew the only way she could get me to go was if she went. So, my mom started helping at youth group in the hope I would go: I did.”
“I felt worried. I didn’t have any friends there, but I kept on going back because I wanted to grow in my faith. After a while, I started to make friends. I realized that trying out youth group had been a good decision. Not only did it help me to make friends, I learned more about my faith.
“Another challenge occurred when I went to the Franciscan University of Steubenville Youth Conference: I wanted to go to confession. I knew I would not know any of the priests there and that made me very nervous about going. Usually Mom would go first and explain my issues to the priest; that helped decrease my anxiety and fear. I started praying about it, ‘God, I trust in You. If this is what I need to do to be happy, then I need the grace to go.’ I was hoping the line for confession wouldn’t advance quickly, but suddenly it was my turn. I went. I felt so great after that. I realized that it doesn’t matter who the priest is, because it is Jesus sitting there in front of me. He is happy that I went to confession! He wants me to understand what I did wrong, confess those sins, be absolved, and be happy again. Since then, I have been able to walk into any confessional and not be afraid.
“Another great challenge for me was school. I wanted to go to college to do something with photography or working with children. I was really struggling … with school being so hard already for me, how could I ever pass college? So, once again I prayed to Jesus Christ, “God, you know what is the best for me and I know you have a plan for me, so please give me a sign of what I should do.” I prayed that consistently and it occurred to me that all I needed to do was something that made me happy. My school offered a photography class. I took it and loved it! I see the world from a unique perspective and my photography reflects that.
“My sister, Katya, went to college to be a photographer. She offered to continue my training. She noticed we both loved working with children who had special needs, so we opened a photography business, Puzzle Pieces Photography, specializing in ‘special needs photography.’ God has shown me I can help others, because, since I have autism and sensory stuff, I know firsthand how people with those issues react. I use my love for children and photography in a good way.
“Even though I was doing something I loved, I kept coming back to the thought that I want to be a teacher: How can I make this dream come true?
“My high school was combined with a trade school. They offered an early childhood program. When I was a senior, I went to the trade school (Board of Cooperative Educational Services or BOCES). I fell in love with the idea of working in a preschool.
“My teacher recognized my desire to teach and recommended a higher-level vocational school (Rochester Educational Opportunity Center or REOC) to receive my Child Development Associate certificate. In my state, this qualifies me to be a daycare teacher.
“At REOC’s open house, I told my parents that I couldn’t do it! It was too scary for me; it seemed too hard. The people there kept encouraging me.
“I sat down in that first class not knowing anyone and scared out of my mind, especially when the teacher was talking about all the work we had to do in six weeks! How could I get all this work done? I told my parents I couldn’t do it. They told me I had made it this far and that this was always my dream (to be a teacher) so try to stick it out.
“Three weeks in, I had made some friends and was doing great. Before I knew it, I had completed six weeks and I finished the program with an A. The last thing you need to finish the class is 480 hours working at a preschool to take the certification examination. I set out to accomplish that goal too.
“I went to take my exam, following my classroom observation and portfolio review. There was a mix-up and when I arrived, they didn’t have my accommodations (extra time to take the test, directions and test read to me) in place. I had a decision to make: reschedule or trust myself and take the exam without my accommodations. I decided to take the exam. It was stressful, but I felt it was important. I passed that exam!
“Now I have a job I love, as an assistant preschool teacher. I can say that my dream has come true, not only being a teacher, but also being a photographer with my sister. I would like to thank all the people who encouraged me, never letting me give up; if not for them my dream would’ve never come true.”
Mary Lou Rosien is a former English teacher and current substitute teacher, Confirmation teacher, Pre-Cana instructor, and RCIA coordinator/teacher.