Written by: Emily Chao and Kairui Sun, FCSN Voices Youth Reporters
Graphics by: Katherine Geng, FCSN Voices Graphic Artist
Meet Joyce Lui: a senior at Monta Vista High School located in Cupertino, California, who is incredibly passionate about the special needs community. Since 10th grade, she has been very involved in school and volunteering, finding various ways to support special needs children. From hanging out virtually over Zoom to pairing special needs individuals with a buddy at school, her journey of supporting special needs children started with FCSN.
“My sister is on the spectrum, so we’ve always been going to FCSN,” Joyce said. “I would always tag along to her dance and other classes.” As a result, she “grew up feeding into the stigma” associated with the community, which included the presumption that special needs individuals were dependent, helpless, or unable to defend themselves. This most often stemmed from the lack of knowledge and understanding of the special needs community.
When the pandemic hit, shelter-in-place mandates allowed for more free time in Joyce’s day. Soon, instead of passively observing the special needs community, she decided to take a step towards actively making a change with FCSN.
The initial signup process, coupled with the barriers posed by the pandemic, made her first step quite daunting. Around Christmas, there was an opportunity to volunteer for singing karaoke with special needs students through the SN Virtual Tutoring program. The tutoring was “not so much [for] academic subjects, but just a time to hang out” for both Joyce and her tutee. At first, Joyce found it “a very nerve-wracking experience because [she] had nobody else to rely on.” However, after pushing through the early stages of nervousness, Joyce fostered a genuine love for interacting with the students.
Building this casual yet profound bond struck a chord within the special needs students, and one recounted to Joyce that “he really appreciates that he has someone to converse with,” and is able to communicate with neurotypical peers like Joyce. This was exactly why Joyce had joined FCSN: to act as an accessible friend who strove to help everyone around her. Deeply touched, Joyce decided to continue with SNTutoring as well as take another step towards helping special needs students.
Originally signing up as a teaching assistant for an embroidery class, Joyce was instead assigned the role of class leader by the program manager. With minimal support from her supervisor, Joyce ended up creating the seven-week plan on her own, consisting of tutorials on how to embroider patterns into various items. Online school didn’t make it easy: “especially for people on the spectrum, it’s harder because [students] can lose focus, so it was really challenging to […] have everyone on the same page.” From hanging out with individual students to leading a class of many, Joyce’s journey with FCSN had leaped forward yet again.
In the future, Joyce hopes to pursue the humanities field and involve herself in work that surrounds neurodiverse individuals. When giving advice for newcomers interested in being part of the FCSN program, Joyce advises, “Don’t be scared. I was very shy and timid coming to this organization, but I feel [like] that it is just a growing experience; if you don’t step out of your comfort zone, you’ll never know what can come out of it.” She is extremely grateful for stepping out of her own comfort zone, as she admits that if she never did, she would not be the person she is today. “I want to make a tangible change in the community…I don’t think my high school life would be as fulfilling as there has been without FCSN.”