Like all working moms, Joanne West, the Director of Administration and Operations at NYIT Westbury Campus, wears many hats. Yet, when I met her about a year ago, I was particularly impressed.
West was presenting a workshop on how being a mother of a special needs child has made her a better employee. I was deeply inspired by her words, and also in awe of how her confidence has built as she has grown to become an advocate for her son.
Here, she shares a bit about herself, her career, and her family.
What is your position? What are some of your daily tasks?
I’ve been at NYIT Westbury Campus for nearly 11 years in a variety of roles. Currently, I am the Director of Administration and Operations where I serve as the Student Affairs liaison with the Office of Financial Affairs and Office of Human Resources and function as the primary budget and personnel officer for the area. I coordinate the annual budgeting process, including new initiative operating and capital project requests for Student Affairs. I develop policies, procedures and appropriate financial controls to assure prudent use of financial and human resources.
Additionally, I conduct research, benchmark and create reports on a variety of topics as needed for the Associate Provost, Dean of Students and a variety of other colleagues and constituents. I am also one of the two elected Professional Staff Senators on the institution’s Academic Senate.
Tell me a bit about your family.
I have been married to my supportive husband Nick for six years. We are the proud parents of Christian (4) and Anna Grace (2).
At about 18 months old, I started to really notice that Christian was exhibiting behaviors that I found to be unusual. He would toe-walk, perseverate over tasks (like build stacking cup towers over and over again), and have facial and physical “tics.” He also had emerging language that was lost. I brought this information to our family pediatrician who recommended that Christian get evaluated by our county’s Early Intervention program.
When making the appointment, the person who took my call suggested that at that point, I should only have Christian evaluated for speech because of his young age. I insisted that we have a full educational, physical and psychological examination. My instincts were proven right and at 22 months old, he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. He began receiving Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Occupational Therapy and Speech therapies through the county’s Early Intervention program in July 2015. Soon after Christian turned 3, he began a full-day pre-school program for children on the Autism Spectrum.
Through insurance and private pay, Christian’s week out of school is filled with 10 hours of in-home ABA therapy, an Occupational Therapy session and a sensory music class.
How has your career changed since having your son?
Having children has not slowed down my career trajectory. In fact, since I had my son, I have had two internal job advancements. My time, however, I changed since I had kids. I used to be able to show my support to students and colleagues by attending many of their evening and weekend events. I would be at school all of the time. I am more limited now in what I can attend but I try to show support in other ways when not available in person. I am very engaged on social media so that I can support and promote campus events and services. I often stream athletic competitions from home to keep up with the teams and to show support while still spending time at home.
What is most challenging about being a working mother of a special needs child? What is most rewarding?
Time is always a challenge for most moms, regardless of their children’s abilities. I can’t attend every event at school. I can’t participate in every parent meeting or social. I try not to let “mom guilt” get me. While I may miss some things, I am also showing my children that with the right management, you can have a loving home, a happy marriage and a fulfilling career.
The most rewarding part about being a special needs mom is seeing hard work pay off and celebrating those victories. We celebrate everything – the big and small. Every little achievement is a big achievement to us. It really is a beautiful way to live.
You told me at the conference that as a working mother, I’m more marketable now than before I had children. What does that statement mean to you and why?
There are many reasons why I think that I am a better employee because I am a mom. Now that I am a mom, I am the manager of my household and my young children’s lives. I continue to try to find ways to best manage our time, get the most for our money and develop my children.
These are all transferrable skills that are needed and valued in the business world. Because I am in higher education, the fact that I am a mom makes me feel more connected to students and their families. I know how much work went into getting those students to where they are. Because I am a special needs mom, I know what it’s like to get the run-around when it comes to therapies for my son. I never want to foster an environment where I give anyone the run-around. If there is a student or person in need of assistance in my office, I will make sure that I don’t lose connection with that person until I am sure that they have connected with the right person.
What advice do you have for other moms?
My advice is to build a tribe of people who are on your side — ones who support you in your work and as a parent. I am blessed in the fact that I have supportive family and life-long friends close by. I know others aren’t as lucky. I also rely on a tribe of people that I don’t really know thanks to social media. I am a part of some groups on social media that are geared toward parents who live in my school district and parents who live in my area who have children with special needs. I often go to members of these groups to seek out their experiences, ask for advice and sometimes, just to vent. I have gotten countless tips from people who have “been there.”
With that being said, I always tell moms to trust their gut. More often than not, they know what is best for them and their families. Additionally, I encourage any parent who suspects that their child has a delay or disability to be proactive and get their child evaluated by a professional. Do not feel shame. Reach out to those in the special needs community for support if needed.
Nicole Wolfrath is mom to two feisty girls in elementary and nursery school and has worked full time as a college career counselor for the past 15 years. She holds leadership roles on her children’s school boards and PTA, loves to create art when she can find the time, and is passionate about women’s and parenting issues which she advocates for through teaching and blogging.