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Tuesday 23 Jan 2018

The Most Fulfilling Life Imaginable – by Abby

This is the story of how I became involved in the lives of people with autism and their families. It’s been a long and winding road, but here I am. There are so many people to thank for guiding me down this path, and I’m forever indebted to them. Please read on and find out how I became the person I am today.

Abby Twyman, M.Ed, BCBA - Autism Community Editor

In the spring of 2003 I graduated with an undergraduate degree in neurobiology. Many of my peers were headed to medical school or graduate school, but I wasn’t quite ready to make that leap. Being the type of person who needs to have a plan before making any large commitments, I still needed time to decide to what it was I wanted to dedicate my life and career. Following graduation I began working in a pharmacology lab at the University of Washington in which I engaged in brain research on the cellular level. I was part of a study involved in identifying neuronal pathways, which really meant I spent 8 or more hours sitting in the corner behind a microscope looking at neurons. It was fascinating work, but did not suit my level of necessary human interaction.

One of my close friends, who was also part of my neurobiology cohort, entered into an occupational therapy graduate program following graduation. After talking to her about the program, the types of things she was going to be learning about and doing, I decided I would investigate this as an option for myself. Through my research and conversations with friends, I concluded that the best way for me to decide whether or not this is something I wanted to do was to find a job working with people with disabilities who needed occupational therapy. At the beginning of 2004 I began working as a one-on-one aide with a kindergartner with autism.

The moment I met this little boy was the moment my life changed forever and I knew without a doubt that this was where I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to be doing. There’s really no other way to describe what I felt that day, except to say everything felt as though it had fallen into place. Throughout the next two years I spent every day immersed in the world of autism. In addition to working as an aide, I began working with a variety of children in their homes implementing ABA interventions. Everything I did felt so natural from the very beginning: teaching communication, social skills, and academics, implementing behavior intervention plans, helping children find success in the general education classroom and with their peers. In 2006 I met a woman, who would later become my graduate adviser, who was highly impressed with the work I was doing and asked if I was planning to enter a masters program. I was already confident that this was what I wanted to commit my life to, so I applied, got accepted and began my program in the fall of 2006. My masters program wasn’t in occupational therapy, as I had started out thinking it might be, but in special education with an emphasis on low-incidence disabilities.

For two years I took classes, continued working with children in their home programs, worked as a teaching assistant in Project DATA at the University of Washington, completed 3 10-week internships (pre-school, middle school and high school), finished a 10-week student teaching program (high school) and wrote a master’s thesis based on a survey study I conducted of special education teachers investigating how they write and implement IEPs. Needless to say it was a very busy two years.

Following graduation in 2008 I worked for Lake Washington School District first as a consultant on a case with a child who was using PECS and then as a full-time special education teacher in a K-6 resource room serving children with a variety of disabilities including autism. I spent a year teaching, assessing children, writing reports and IEPs, implementing behavior intervention plans, and working with many wonderful staff, children and families. While I loved every minute of my time teaching there, I found myself longing to get back to only working with people with autism and their families. Life has a way of forcing us to make the changes we’re reticent to make on our own, and life never lets me down. In the summer of 2009 my husband and I were relocated (by his employer) to Arizona.

I had already taken all the necessary courses and completed all the clinical hours needed to sit for the BACB exam, so I took the exam in August 2009 and became certified as a behavior analyst. Through my search for employment in a new city, I found a wonderful organization called SARRC. They do amazing work with children and adults with autism and their families, and I wanted to be a part of their remarkable team. So I applied for a position, got accepted and began working with them in August of 2009. I’m now working with a variety of children with autism and their families every day designing and implementing programs, training parents, and working with the community.

It is a highly rewarding career in which I’ve found myself. While it’s only been seven years since my time as a research assistant in a lab sitting behind a microscope, it feels as though it’s been a lifetime. A lifetime filled with finding my path, taking action to follow that path, and now finding myself working with the most amazing people. Every day I wake up excited to see what challenges the day will bring. It’s what keeps my career interesting and fulfilling, and it’s what makes every day worth living. The children and the families with whom I’ve worked have made me who I am today, and they’re what keep me motivated to live life to its fullest and never take anything for granted. My career has really only just begun, and I’m so excited to see what will happen in the many, many years to come.

To everyone I’ve worked with over the years: Thank you so much for everything you’ve given me. Although you may not realize how much you’ve changed my life, you have changed it immensely and I feel blessed that our lives crossed paths!!

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