‘Instead of shying away from things that were difficult, I leaned into the other ways that my brain overcompensated.’
Jennifer Salta, Huntington
“I moved here in the early ’90s, and I joined an inclusion class. Inclusion classes are when they take kids from special ed and mainstream them with the other kids.
“At the time, I was just diagnosed with an undisclosed learning disability. It’s an audio-processing disorder. My life as a young adult was really difficult in elementary school as far as connecting with people, making friends, behaviorally and also academically, because I was really struggling and failing. But being in the inclusion class, my personal experience was that it was really helpful.
“I had my IEP [individualized education program], and I got the help I needed, such as extended time on testing and using headphones to have directions read to me, and I was eventually mainstreamed into a regular class.
I am now a jeweler, so I have a trade, and I do repairs and teach classes and run my own business.
“In high school, I won an award for leaving special ed. Then I went on to college at SUNY Purchase and had my IEP follow me to college and graduated in the top of my class. I was in design technology, which is a technical art degree; it’s like a trade school, almost.
“Something that I think that is important with kids of different neuro types is that — and my mom always stressed this because she was a big advocate for me — you don’t have to go into a normal career path. And I didn’t.
“I am now a jeweler, so I have a trade, and I do repairs and teach classes and run my own business. That might seem like it would be hard for someone who, like, struggles with basic organization and spelling, but it’s given me the flexibility to create my life and make it work for me.
“Instead of shying away from things that were difficult, I leaned into the other ways that my brain overcompensated. I’ve created this life for myself that is outside of what the normal expectations are, and that was all because of the support that I had gotten in school. I may have been in a different situation a few years before they had these types of programs.
“When you have children who are autistic or have ADHD or even just behavioral issues, you don’t realize what the future holds and that we grow up. I am just here to express what’s on the other side of it.”
Interviewed by Hannah Fusaro