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12 August 2013

Leaving the workforce, coming full circle

This week’s guest blog comes from Tracy Strickland Sas a senior associate working with our US firm. Tracy – a mom of a teen with severe Autism shares her story, a story that is full of courage and hope.  I’ve no doubt it will touch and inspire all of our Gender Agenda readers.

Enjoy

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For as long as I can remember, I dreamed of a corporate career. As a five-year old, I’d put on my dad’s suit jackets and pretend to give out business cards to my imaginary clients. So, corporate I became as soon as I graduated from Rollins College with my degree in Communications & English. In 1984, I joined PwC (then Price Waterhouse) as a microcomputer support specialist. I traveled, trained, documented and supported the needs of our practice offices. I believed I had found the perfect place to work and never imagined that one day I would need to step away.

Ten years passed before another dream was realized with the birth of my twins, Jonathan and Taylor. Since my husband also had a career, many assumed that I would give up mine to focus on my babies. I remember the sting of disapproval when I shared my decision to return to the workplace fulltime. One friend actually said, “I can’t believe that you’ve tried this long to get pregnant, and now that you have twins you’re going back to work.”

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Determined to give my all to both, I did so for the next few years — but then I was forced to adjust to a hard reality. My son, Jonathan, wasn’t developing as expected. He was easily frustrated and his language was limited. We soon launched into an all-consuming journey called Autism. Despite all manner of treatments, specialists, and prayer, Jonathan was getting worse. I continued to work as we struggled to get needed services. It was a very lonely road, as Autism didn’t receive the level of attention or funding as it has in recent years.

In one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make, I stepped away from my career to navigate the unknown and overwhelming challenge of Autism. I felt the loss on many levels: loss of my dreams for my son and family, loss of income, and loss of my own identity.

I approached Jonathan’s care like a project (something I knew) with spreadsheets and data collection. I tracked the foods he ate, when and where his behaviors occurred, and even photographed the destruction of our home as he acted out in frustration and rage. Therapies were terribly expensive, and, at that time, insurance didn’t cover any of it. The therapy that held the most promise was called Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). However, it cost about $70,000 per year — far beyond our reach.

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A couple of years ago, the doors finally opened for Jonathan to enroll in a residential educational program structured to his needs. Had I not stepped away from my career when I did to devote myself to Jonathan, this wouldn’t have happened. I needed every ounce of time, energy, determination, and all that data, to hold our family together and to break through the bureaucracy. I will never regret my decision to step away from my career to invest myself in Jonathan. Thankfully, parents today have more options and support than I did.  More employers recognize the importance of flexibility and family benefits, particularly for those who have children with special needs.

In January 2012, I ran into a former PwC colleague who encouraged me to return to the firm. Not only did I return to a firm I love, but was blown away by the many Diversity & Inclusion programs now available. Special needs caregivers can join a networking circle to connect with colleagues who understand what they’re going through. We’re provided opportunities to speak to educational specialists for advice on how to obtain services. And, best of all, PwC US now provides insurance coverage for ABA therapy, a therapy that holds promise for kids with Autism and hope for their parents. I’m grateful and humbled to work for a firm that reaches out to parents who care for children with special needs.

Parenthood comes with changes and challenges — compounded exponentially by a diagnosis like Autism. It’s transformed my family and my life. But it’s also taught me that many people have struggles we can’t see, and each one of us has something to contribute. I’ve learned to celebrate the joy in little things. There’s nothing like Jonathan’s sweet smile and the sparkle in his eye when he engages with his twin sister.

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Tracy Strickland Sas is a senior associate in PwC’s U.S. HR Shared Services Centre where she maintains the firm's HR website. She contributes regularly on women's issues through enterprise-wide social media and is launching a Lean In Women's Circle in Tampa.

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Comments

Tracy, what a beautiful story! Not only are you highlighting the many benefits of working for a great firm like PwC, but you are also bringing forward all of the benefits and the importance of dedicating yourself to what is really important - family! I admire your courage and having worked with you, I can attest for your drive and strong desire to fully take advantage of all of the opportunities provided to us here at PwC. On the family front, I wish you all the best and on the professional aspect, I would encourage you to impart your know-how of maximizing the opportunities available to all of us at PwC. Thank you for sharing your personal story with us.

I'm inspired by Tracey's story. We can all learn from her dedication to her life -- her whole life. It's great to see that her family is doing well and she's working at PwC again. Go Tracy!

Great story, Tracy -- thanks for sharing it!

Tracey, thanks for a heartfelt story. I hope the improvements in Jonathan's life are helping.

I appreciate working at a firm that appreciates the importance of flexibility and family.

Tracy,
Thank you for sharing your story. I admire and respect that you have never given up on Jonathan or your family. I pray that God will continue to guide you as you leave your mark on others. May God bless you and all that you do.

Tracy, you are an amazing woman, and you have done so much for your children. I am happy to see that you have such a fulfilling career, and you truly show people that you can be a mom and have a career, you do not need to chose. We are all so proud of you!

Beautifully written Tracy. You navigated this challenge with such grace and always had a smile on your face. Both PWC and Jonathan are incredibly lucky to have you!

Tracy,
You make me proud to have the title of "Mother".
Wow, what an awesome & encouraging story of your life and dedication to Jonathan.
I have a step-son with Autism; it is a rather sad story, because he does not have a biological mother who cares for him the way you did for Johnathan. I've only been in the picture for the last 10 years, I have tried up make a difference; however, the real mom would rather just provide a means of babysitting rather than seeking out "true" help for him. This mom is all about the Gov't funding she gets rather than seeking the best help for her son. My step-son who I will not call by name, is relatively high functioning in the grand scheme of things. His behavior is what keeps him at bay; he is not made to follow the rules of the home like others. for the mom, it's just easier to let him have his way when he throws a fit! From day one after meeting this child ( he was still in high school at the time) I told my husband that this child is not getting the right kind of help to move him forward in life. I vowed to make a difference. Sadly, 10 yrs later, we are no closer than we were. I've never heard of the therapy called ABA, but plan to google it as soon as I finish here. I would love to speak with you or correspond by email up see if you think I am just dreaming of help for my step son, or if its possible to find help for him at the age of almost 29. I hope I have not wasted my time in writing this post, and that I will hear back from you.

Your story is what motherhood is all about.

Thanks for sharing your heart,
The Step-Mom

Tracy, you have undoubtedly faced much deeper personal and professional trials than this blog can even begin to touch on. It’s because of determined, responsive and loving parents like you that special needs awareness has sky rocketed. You are amazing.

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