Inspired by Her Son, Mother Pursues Her Lifelong Dream of Helping Others With Behavioral Disorders
Jennifer worked in banking for most of her career after graduating from college with a degree in psychology. She followed her husband's job around the country and was always able to find a position in the industry wherever they landed. She also was caring for her three young children. It was enough to just get everyone out the door on time in the morning, but shuttling them to extracurricular activities, getting dinner on the table, and helping her kids with homework gave her no time to think about herself.
"My oldest son, who is now 14, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I have been his biggest advocate from the beginning, and as a result I learned a lot about the field of behavior analysis," Jennifer said. "My son has really struggled, but he works so hard and has come so far. He's now in a gifted program! I really give a lot of credit to the teachers and therapists. They made a huge difference in improving not only my son's life, but the quality of life for our entire family."
Jennifer's son always loved sports, especially soccer, but she had a hard time finding an athletic program that supported his needs. So Jennifer took the initiative and she started a program herself. Jennifer is the founder and director of TOPSoccer, a national program for children with disabilities and part of the Florida Youth Soccer team.
As Jennifer's son began to do better and her kids got a little older, she began to reflect on herself for a change. She realized how great it felt to have helped improve her son's life. She thought she could do the same for other children and their families. "I felt like I was picking up from where I left off after earning my degree in psychology 20 years ago. For years, I had a little voice inside of me saying that I needed to get back into the field to become a certified applied behavioral analyst."
At the same time, Jennifer's husband's health started to decline, and he went on disability due to his bipolar disorder. She knew that it was now or never if she wanted to pursue her dream, and she was even more inspired as she saw her husband courageously battle his disorder.
"I certainly knew hands-on what it was like to work with people with behavioral challenges," Jennifer said. "I felt pretty confident that I could bring something to the table, even though I didn't have any work experience in the field." In just a few months, Jennifer succeeded in landing a job as a special education coordinator at a public charter Montessori school.* She works with students with disabilities, including some kids with autism.
After landing a job in the field, Jennifer's next step toward her goal was to earn her master's degree in psychology.† Jennifer turned to Kaplan University. "I chose Kaplan University because of its excellent reputation, and it had the program I was looking for," she said. However, Jennifer had reservations about taking out loans to go back to school. She was worried that it might not work out, and that she might not complete the program. "It was a pretty stressful time! But my family was so supportive. Once I told them of my dream, they wouldn't let me back down."
When she looks back, Jennifer's only regret is that she didn't do it sooner. She found going back to school was a lot of fun, and she felt really inspired. She credits the easy online learning environment at Kaplan University for enabling her to enjoy her studies around her own schedule. "I could be in my pajamas and do my work. …they made it easy for me to succeed."
Jennifer also enjoyed learning from her professors and was especially inspired by their real world experience. "I definitely thought it was neat to be online with students and professors from all around the country, and to communicate with people who lived close to me. I really felt like part of a class. We shared our experiences, our goals, and I even learned that some of the other students were also inspired by events in their own lives."
Once Jennifer completes her internship hours and successfully passes her certification test, she would like to work at her current school as a behavioral analyst.‡ She also wants to continue her education by working toward her doctoral degree. Eventually, Jennifer would like to open up her own behavioral therapy practice so that she can give back to the community, the same way that others have helped her and her family.