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Empowering Autistic Women: How one person can change the lives of an underserved community

As Chair of the Advisory Board, it is my purpose to field, nominate and choose who would be the right people for the Board. Our Board serves as a diverse body of individuals from all walks of life, representing a wide range of populations but the one commonality is that all are found somewhere on the autism spectrum. One of our newest members is Isabelle ‘Izzy’ Piwnicki from White Plains, New York who co-founded Girl AGain with her mother, Marjorie Madfis, which is a Microbusiness, of Yes She Can a Work Experience Agency, for women with autism who work on American Girl Dolls and Accessories. Since 2014, this program has been widely successful allowing Izzie the ability to not just advocate for herself, which she has been doing for years, but also for others.

When I read about her background and being in the trenches with all of the therapeutic programs that we treasure in the Clinical Field, I knew that she had to be one of the Advisory Board. It also helped that she became our Autism Spectrum Award Winner in 2021, which she was very excited about when we acknowledged her ability to transform and change the lives of others. Currently, at the age of 25, she is successfully working at Sephora and serving as a role model for anyone else who enters the workforce as a member of the autism community.

Because of her example, I decided to conduct a Zoom Interview with her and her mother to ask a series of pertinent questions related to Izzy’s life and her mother’s boundless love to see her child succeed. Below is a narrative built upon the strength of the answers to my questions.

Isabelle ‘Izzy’ Piwnicki was diagnosed with autism as a toddler during a time in which she lost a lot of her speech and some of her skills, but even before that moment, her mother – Marjorie Madfis – saw traits that could be considered to fit within autism including the ability to have great directional abilities in her stroller when going to different playgrounds. The diagnosis did not surprise Mrs. Madfis who proceeded to search for therapies, treatments, and services so that Izzy can regain lost language, have friends and create a sense of independence. Through Occupational Therapy, ABA Therapy, special educational programs, and speech therapy, Izzy was able to create more meaningful conversations, generate friendships, and manage her emotions better.

When Izzy was about 6 she had her first mainstream moment when she was introduced to a dance program, the only disabled individual there and the instructor was willing to accommodate her. Izzy ended up following the other girls and it had such an impact on her that her mother decided for her to have an inclusive education which meant taking classes with a variety of kids, disabled and not. Dancing also helped in that Izzy has been through a multitude of workshops and classes and is even on the Dancing Stars of Westchester Page, where on June 18th of this year she will perform in front of a large audience.

Going to high school Izzy succeeded in having a Teaching Assistant, or T.A. for her classes who would help her with her notes and would advocate with her to communicate with her teachers. At Westchester Community College, she had peer mentors who along with helping her take notes, and asking questions to her professors would also help her navigate from class to class. These accommodations helped her graduate from high school and from community college.

At Yes She Can, and the Girl AGain Boutique Microbusiness, Izzy has become a model employee for all of the other trainees teaching them, by example, how to be more flexible, how to accommodate other perspectives, how to work together as a team, and how to handle crowds and loud noises. She is also a model employee at Sephora, where she also works, due to her enthusiastic and positive personality. Despite her challenges, challenges that could feel overwhelming, she perseveres and sees things through, and is also very adaptive at trying new things, which her mother is very proud of.

Her words to other women with autism? ‘Always stand up for yourself, no matter if you’re disabled or not’.

Visit this page to learn more about Izzy Piwnicki and the other members of the Els for Autism Advisory Board.