"For any prospective law student" by Dave & Mercedes Rizzo (CatholicMom.com) Copyright 2017 Dave & Mercedes Rizzo. All rights reserved.

Our son, Colin will graduate from college in May.  In August, he will be starting law school. As part of the law school application process he was required to write a personal statement. It is his chance to tell the school something about himself  that was not listed on his application. We decided to share a large portion of Colin's personal statement, as it gives a glimpse of what it is like to be the sibling of someone who has special needs and how that impacts one's view of life.

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For any prospective law student the first time you set foot inside a courtroom is an exciting moment in your life and a potential glimpse into your future. The majority of law students might be eager to take a moment to enjoy the atmosphere and the ambiance of the court, all the while studying the atmosphere where they will be spending such a large portion of their future professional lives. When I take my first steps inside the courtroom, I will not be doing so as a law student, but rather as part of the guardianship hearing process for my younger sister, Danielle.

Danielle was diagnosed with nonverbal autism when she was four years old. She is now eighteen years old and has reached the age of legal adulthood.  My parents will need to become her legal guardians, and at some point in the future I will eventually take over Danielle's guardianship when my parents are unable to do so. This is a very big responsibility for me to take on. This is why instead of me thinking about my future as a lawyer while I am in the courtroom, I will be thinking about my future as Danielle's guardian, preparing for the responsibility of governing all her financial, legal and medical affairs and more importantly advocating for her needs. Whether I knew it or not, I have been preparing for this role for most of my life.

Watching my parents through the years I have come to understand the importance of advocating for those who cannot represent themselves. It is not easy for people with disabilities such as Danielle as they are often targets for others to take advantage of. All of this has taught me diligence and persistence needed to care for Danielle and I am confident in my ability to perform these duties when called upon to do so. As I grew up, I became increasingly aware of the challenges my sister faced and I began to think about the effect that other people had on impacting her life. I started to realize that I had the ability to make a positive difference in Danielle's life and in the life of others. By the time I got to high school, I was able to put some of these thoughts into action.

Through my school’s volunteer service coordinator, I discovered an organization known as ARC, or the Association of Retarded Citizens. Volunteering with the ARC only enhanced my belief in the importance of serving the needs of those who are unable to advocate for themselves. At the ARC, developmentally disabled adults are provided an opportunity to achieve a sense of purpose and community. These individuals are given a sense of self-worth through jobs that they are connected with, and they are able to make a positive contribution to the world. The following year, my service coordinator connected me with an organization called SPANNER. During my time at SPANNER, I would go every Friday to organize and participate in social events that embraced special needs teenagers and integrated them in activities with other high school aged kids.
The common theme that I discovered from watching Danielle's experience and the experience of the members of ARC and SPANNER was the importance of helping people. While others may look at my sister and see an opportunity to take advantage, I have grown to see someone who was able to overcome many challenges. While others may see the members of ARC as people unable to contribute to society, I began to see a community of individuals who were able to realize their own capabilities. Where some may see the students at SPANNER as socially challenged, I was able to experience firsthand the joy that they were able to bring to others.
Much of this is due, in part, to people and organizations that have given these individuals the resources needed to reach their potential.
As Danielle enters into adulthood, and as I consider my future role in caring for her, I often find myself looking back on my past experiences as building blocks creating the person that I am today.  With all that I have learned, I am confident that I will be able to support Danielle and be able to help anyone else who is in need of assistance.
Danielle’s struggle is one that is shared by far too many people in this country. Whether it is a disability holding them back or even something as simple as a lack of knowledge about their rights, people can find themselves in a position where they are unable to fight for themselves, keeping them from reaching the full potential of what they are capable of.  Seeing how far Danielle has come has instilled in me the importance of advocating for others.
As a lawyer, I will be able to provide representation for those who are being held back by external factors, giving them a chance to achieve their goals. I have learned that everyone is capable of greatness; they just need someone there to give them the  opportunity to realize it. So while I am in the courtroom on behalf of my sister, I will be looking forward to law school and reflecting on why I have decided to become a lawyer.

"For any prospective law student" by Dave & Mercedes Rizzo (CatholicMom.com) Copyright 2017 Dave & Mercedes Rizzo. All rights reserved.

Like all parents we want the best for our children, but when you are a special needs family you often worry of the impact that the child with special needs has on her siblings. It is heartening to discover that while there are many challenges the experience of having a sibling with special needs can lead to significant growth and development, even a sense of responsibility. We trust that the lessons Colin has learned will help him in his journey through law school and throughout his life.
Copyright 2017 David and Mercedes Rizzo