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Stephanie’s Story

The Catozzi Family

Stephanie’s Shirt Shop was founded to create a job for our autistic daughter. Stephanie is 18 and currently attends an adult day program. Since she was 2 years old we started navigating a world we knew nothing about.

At first, we just got the diagnosis that Stephanie has apraxia. A word we were not familiar with at all. It means she knows what she wants to say but the brain can’t communicate to the mouth and tongue to form words. During her first year, she met all her milestones and we enjoyed watching our firstborn grow and learn. By 18 months she had lost all the words she had at 1 yr and we started noticing other areas of delay.

We started the journey of therapy that would continue for the next 16 years. She has always been a social kid, loves people, and being a part of our huge family parties. We are so thankful to have a huge support system in both our families that have always INCLUDED Stephanie. 

By age 3 she received her autism diagnosis. Her language was behind both receptively and expressively. We didn’t have luck finding a good therapist those first 2.5 years after her apraxia diagnosis. It wasn’t until we started ABA therapy at age 4 that we finally found a group of people willing to work with, teach, and learn from Stephanie. We are grateful for the 6 years of therapy we got from them. Besides being behind in language she started becoming aggressive because she couldn't express her anger and frustration through her words. That became a major part of our therapy. We learned as parents how important it is to be Consistent All The Time!

Even though through all her years of therapy she became known as Consistently Inconsistent. Just when you think something would help her learn a skill or a sound or would be a good reinforcer she’d prove you wrong. Always keeping her therapists and us as parents on our toes.

We tried the public school where we lived and that consisted of her spending 90% of the day in the special education room. No skills being learned and us constantly concerned about what was going on at the school. So we made the decision to move her to a special needs school 40 minutes away.

That was a great decision for Stephanie but we also had to uproot our other 2 kids as well. The teachers at her new school seemed to know how to handle Stephanie and some skills were learned but as we know, good things never last. Eventually, it became Stephanie in seclusion again. Her behavior became aggressive towards others and they didn’t know how to handle that so their solution was to keep her away from others. So she only made it there for 5 years. It wasn’t good the last couple of years. So again we needed to find a school that would include Stephanie. We found another special needs school again about 40 minutes away, in a different direction. Thankfully we didn’t have to move again this time. 

Now that she is 18 we decided to take her out of that school so she could focus on more enjoyable activities, more individual attention, and lots more fun. 

Over the years we've seen all different kinds of doctors and they have all told us “you are doing everything you can”, “she has great potential to hold a job”, “keep doing what you're doing”. But we keep thinking there must be something else we can do to help with the aggressive behavior and all the learning disabilities. As we continue to figure out ways for Stephanie to express her anger and frustration in safer ways we figure the best way for her to earn a living is in a family business. She LOVES to work, be productive, and feel the satisfaction of a completed job. Stephanie will be helping by rolling up each shirt, securing it with a wristband, and getting the orders ready to ship. 

The design on the clothes is a smiley face drawn by Stephanie. She cannot write her name so she would always sign her name as a smiley face. So that is her signature. It will also be included on the Thank You card that is included in each order. 

We hope you proudly wear your “Just Include Everybody” shirts and make sure to live that way when you see someone looks like they just need someone to INCLUDE them. 

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