After Fears She'd Be Disabled, Middletown Teen Is 4th In Class
Doctors said she would be born with Down syndrome and severe mental handicaps. This week, Sara Deuidicibus graduates fourth in her class.
MIDDLETOWN, NJ — Parents in the audience will likely beam with pride as they watch their son or daughter walk up Wednesday morning to collect their diploma at Middletown High School North's graduation.
But one local Belford family may have particular reason to be proud of their graduating senior, Sara Deuidicibus.
That's because before she was even born, doctors warned her parents that Sara, now 17, would have Down syndrome. They said she would be severely mentally and physically handicapped, and advised her mother to terminate the pregnancy.
Her parents did not listen. Sara graduated fourth in her class at Middletown North, with a 3.97 GPA. She excelled in all her classes, all taken at the AP or honors level. She will attend Stevens Institute of Technology this fall, where she plans to major in biomedical engineering and be pre-med. She is a volunteer Middletown EMT.
"I am in awe of her. I know I'm biased, but I could not do half of what she does," said her mom, Dina Deuidicibus. "The whole thing is miraculous."
She and her husband moved to the Belford section of Middletown, and already had a baby son. They were overjoyed to be pregnant again and knew they wanted to raise their family here. The news was delivered at her five-month scan.
"We were told with Sara initially to terminate the pregnancy; they said she would have severe Down syndrome and be severely mentally and physically handicapped," recalled Dina.
2020欧洲杯赛事"I had had some fertility issues and I was 35 years old, so we felt lucky just to be pregnant again," she said. "We asked the doctor: Will she be in any pain? Will she have a shortened life span?"
"When the answer to both those questions came back no, we said, 'We'll deal with it,'" said her mother. "If she has Down syndrome, we'll deal with it."
2020欧洲杯赛事When she was two months old, her mother started to notice something was wrong.
"There was a problem: It was like she was blank. All she did was scream or cry and eat and sleep. It was all sensory-related; she couldn't stand smells, or being touched or noises. I remember when I gave her her first bath she passed out."
Dina suspected autism. Sara's older brother had been diagnosed with it and some families have a genetic predisposition to autism.
"As she got older, she was completely mute. I started begging her pediatrician to diagnose with her autism and she was finally diagnosed at 11 months," said Dina.
It turned out Sara's autism was more severe than her brother's. With two very young children with special needs, Dina and her husband Joe were determined to do whatever it took.
2020欧洲杯赛事The answer, it turned out, was very intensive, daily in-home therapy starting at a very young age.
"We hired a therapist to come work in our home from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. We took one room downstairs and made it into a classroom. I was up until 2 in the morning writing programs and lesson plans. I quit my job; that's all I did," said Dina.
"We recorded data on what caused tantrums, and what inspired learning," she continued. "The worst days were when my son would be biting and hitting and scratching me and Sara would just cry and scream for hours. I would be just holding her and crying. The therapist said autism doesn't like intruders. They more you break into their world, the less they like it. So the harder they yell and scream, it means you're winning."
The cost was astronomical. Dina estimates that in total she and her husband have spent $400- to $500,000 total addressing their children's autism disorders.
2020欧洲杯赛事"Some of the specialized tests alone were $5,000 to $8,000," she said. "You meet with a doctor for 45 minutes and it's $200. The special teacher we hired was $200 an hour. And none of it was covered by insurance. We took out loans to pay for the private therapy and we're still paying it back today."
"But we're the parents and they're our kids," she said. "If it means refinancing our home, we'll do it. If it means taking out a home equity loan, then we do it."
"Autism is not a poor person's disability," she remarked wryly. "When you ask why more people don't get 'recovered,' that's why."
The breakthroughs started to happen when Sara was three years old.
"She finally started to babble and say individual words; she started putting sentences together. She started walking and engaging with us," her mom recalled.
2020欧洲杯赛事"Sara took longer than her brother, but when she got it, she really got it. To this day she's still like that," said Dina. "I'll see her struggling in her room with calculus and then suddenly I'll hear, 'Mom, I get it!!'"
Unbelievably, by the time they were enrolled in kindergarten in Middletown public schools, both her children were not diagnosed with autism. They did not meet the test requirements. To this day, Dina describes her two children as recovered from autism.
"I credit that all to the early intervention we did," she said. "I believe there is no school system that offers enough individual instruction to recover a child. They are being baby sat. To get these children where they need to be, they need very intense one-on-one instruction in a small private setting."
2020欧洲杯赛事"Looking back at it, I wouldn't be able to do anything if I didn't have that therapy," said Sara.
"Both of my kids will still be considered quirky," said Dina. "So basically where we are now is we have two kids who just think differently than the rest of the world."
Sara reflects on her time at Middletown North
Sara was then diagnosed with Tourette's at age 8.
"My tics were unbearable. At the time the only thing that seemed to soothe me were repetitive things," said Sara. "And playing basketball was very soothing to me."
Her dad took her to Hoop Group in Neptune, and Sara fell in love with it. She would spend hours on the court.
"I actually used my Tourette's to my advantage. I would say, 'You can't stop shooting until you make X number of baskets from this spot,'" she said. "I was that insane about it. I made up all these crazy drills. It taught me discipline."
2020欧洲杯赛事It was at Hoop Group that Sara met her best friend, Candice. She said she never made any close friends at Middletown North, but also said she enjoyed her time there and was never once bullied for her disability.
"I had plenty of acquaintances — I never got picked on," said Sara. "I felt very safe at North when it comes to my disability. I kind of bounced around from different groups — I've always been very intense about my school work and that's off-putting to a lot of people."
Intense about academics is right. Sara took nearly all AP and honors classes during her time at North: AP biology, chemistry, physics, world history and English, doing academic work at a level most adults would struggle with. She took classes in English, biology and human anatomy at the college level, earning credits. She has a nearly perfect 4.0 and graduated in the honors societies for science, Spanish, history and English, among others.
2020欧洲杯赛事Sara received $50,000 in scholarship money to attend Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, where her brother currently is a sophomore. She plans to major in biomedical engineering. She said she would like to be a neurosurgeon, trauma surgeon or work in a lab in adulthood.
2020欧洲杯赛事Sara also volunteered as a junior EMT with the Middletown First Aid & Rescue Squad; she rides in ambulances with them. While at Bayshore Middle School, she started the Diversity Club, for tweens struggling with mental health or their sexuality. At Middletown North, she started the Mindful Psychology and Wellness Club.
"Through that, I met kids who also have mental disorders and emotional issues," she said. "I personally feel like there's not one person who doesn't have something going on."
2020欧洲杯赛事She also won an essay contest from the Monmouth County SPCA on how her dog helps her with her anxiety and Tourette's, and won a regional poetry contest sponsored by the Count Basie.
2020欧洲杯赛事"I just have a lot of really diverse interests," said Sara. "I like to play basketball, I like to write poetry."
Joe and Dina Deuidicibus are incredibly proud of how far their little girl has come.
"Watching her graduate fourth in her class, winning all of these awards and scholarships seems great, but the reality is if we had listened to doctors she would never have been born," her mother posted on Facebook this week. "If we had listened to doctors she may have been mute in a group home instead of going off to college pre-med. She will be 18 in August and has exceeded every goal we set for her or that she has set for herself."