When 1 in 88 American kids is diagnosed with autism, most of us know someone on the spectrum. Not everyone knows how to help. Sophomore Hillary Tamski is leading the charge at Chatham. Tamski formed a “Walk Now for Autism Speaks” team in honor of her 20-year-old cousin, Anthony. “I hope that I can help him to be better understood and accepted as a young adult.”
Though she transferred to Chatham for the 5-year Physician Assistant program, she changed direction when she arrived. “After my required internship experience working with mentally disabled people, I decided that I want to go into the 5-year Occupational Therapy program here instead,” she says.
The Integrative Health Studies major dreams of being a pediatric occupational therapist specializing in mental health, but she’s getting her start with an internship. At the Woodlands, she helps with camps for kids with disabilities. “I chose it because, since I wanted to go into the PA program, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to become exposed to many different types of disabilities that I might come across in a hospital setting,” she says. “I am a counselor, so basically I just make sure everyone is safe and having a good time. We do a lot of great activities and I participate actively and encourage the campers to do so as well.” Working weekends during the academic year, she’ll live at the Woodlands full-time over the summer as a counselor and Health Care Associate for the summer camps. “I will have my current responsibilities,” she says, “plus I will make sure every camper gets their medications throughout the duration they are with us.” It’s her experience at the Woodlands that completely shifted her focus to occupational therapy. “I realized that I have a knack for working with people with disabilities, and I found their optimism in life inspiring. So I decided that instead of working to try and ‘fix what is wrong’ with these people as a physician assistant would, I would much rather work closely with them to learn to live with their disability, reach their goals, and help them continue to live life to the best of their abilities.”
She’s a few years off from getting her degree in Occupational Therapy, but she’s already advocating for Autism Speaks. “I believe a little more work should be done to educate the public and fund research for such a common diagnosis,” she says. “Autism Speaks is an organization that funds research, support services for families, advocacy, and numerous awareness campaigns.” Supporting Tamski’s team is an easy but critical way to help. Anyone interested can make a donation through her page here or sign up to walk with her. Tamski encourages everyone to share the fundraising opportunities on their social media accounts. “There will also be puzzle pieces sold around campus for a $1 donation that can be signed and displayed,” she says,” and I will also be selling blue rubber autism awareness bracelets for $2.”
Every donation supports the work of an extraordinary organization, but it also validates the magnificent goals of a Chatham woman. Whether Tamski is walking for Autism Speaks or working as a camp counselor, she’s a powerful force for good. “I know I have finally found something I am passionate about,” she says, “and I can’t wait to spend my life making a difference in other people’s lives.”
To support Tamski’s work, please visit this website.