Debra Cassino experienced her calling to work with people with disabilities back in elementary school. There was a little girl in her third grade class who was seen as “different” from the other children. Debra didn’t see her that way. She saw a classmate who needed just a little extra help, and Debra was there to give it. Many years later, Debra looks back on that pivotal relationship that brought her to Gateway 23 years ago as a teacher’s aide. There she learned how to get into the world of individuals with intellectual disabilities. She learned sign language, listened more deeply, and developed a patience for their learning process. After four years in that position, she moved on to becoming a Developmental Specialist, the position she still holds today. Her specialty is working with adults with autism.
Debra works to change the expectations of educating adults with intellectual disabilities. She firmly believes that every individual is capable of moving to a new level of skill and/or cognitive performance. She does not allow her participants to stay comfortable in what they know and can do. She continually is raising the bar on their capacity to learn and perform. There are more times than not where families are amazed at their children’s achievements from when they first entered Gateway’s program.
Debra would like to thank the families and friends of Gateway who stand behind and uplift the staff in their educational endeavors. “The work is challenging at best, but knowing that we’re not doing it alone is a great gift.”