A mother's inspiring journey of hope and advocacy

Award-winning author Vickie Rubin, B.S.Ed. ’79, shares her inspiring journey as a mother and advocate, offering hope and support to families raising children with special needs.
woman and trees
Vickie Rubin and her daughter, Jessica

In a world where compassion and understanding can make all the difference, alumna Vickie Rubin stands tall as a beacon of hope for families navigating the challenges of raising children with special needs. Rubin’s unwavering dedication to her daughter Jessica, who was born with a rare chromosome deletion, has transformed her into an advocate, educator, and source of inspiration for families.

Vickie and Mitchel Rubin, B.B.A. ’79, with Jessica

Rubin’s unique blend of academic knowledge, personal experience, and indomitable spirit comes to life in her heartwarming memoir, Raising Jess: A Story of Hope.” The book has not only touched the hearts of countless readers but has also garnered recognition, including the Gold Medal Award from Reader’s Favorite International, Inspirational Memoir Finalist for American Book Fest, and nonfiction finalist for the Book Excellence Award.

Following her graduation from the U, Rubin worked as a parent educator for families of children with disabilities. Later, she became the director of the Western New York Early Childhood Direction Center, where she provided education for families and professionals working with children with disabilities.

She described how her time at the University helped build a strong foundation in child development and education theory, which she said led to better understanding and support of her daughter’s unique needs.

“Learning how to teach at the University of Miami, and then later for my master’s degree, really helped me engage with a wide range of ages and people with different needs,” Rubin said. “I understood what families were going through, and I also had the professional hat. So, I could connect to other professionals, teachers, and therapists.”

After her daughter Jess was born, Rubin wanted to have the best possible expertise to serve as a meaningful advocate for her. Earning a master’s in special education in 2001, Rubin credits her journey in education as one that helped equip her to be an effective advocate for her daughter and other families who face unique challenges when raising their children.

“A teacher at the University of Miami, when I graduated, said to me, you should look into special education for your masters. At the time, I thought I wouldn’t have the patience for that. But that’s how the universe works,” Rubin said. “Later on, I realized that my patience was more than I would ever have anticipated as I became a mom of a daughter with special needs and a teacher.”

Rubin’s memoir chronicles the initial struggles to understand Jess’s diagnosis and how she found the best ways to support her daughter. Along the way, she encountered many obstacles but remained steadfast in her determination to give Jess the best possible life. “When you’re advocating, and things don’t happen right away, you just keep working; you don’t give up,” Rubin said.

Navigating the complicated systems of doctors, educators, and other professionals involved in Jess’s care was a significant challenge, but one that Rubin and her husband, Mitch, B.S.B.A. ’79, were able to face through patience, support, and research. Recognizing the power of genuine connections and shared experiences, Rubin emphasized the significance of finding friends who not only empathized but also forged a personal bond with Jess. “It was very important for us to find friends who were supportive of us, not felt sorry for us, but who genuinely felt a connection to Jessica on their own,” Rubin said.

Rubin believes genuine support goes beyond mere sympathy and instead centers on building authentic relationships rooted in understanding, acceptance, and love. The journey of raising a child with special needs is hard, but she explained that having a strong network of individuals who share the same unwavering commitment can make all the difference.

Rubin also addressed the common misconception that raising a child with special needs is always difficult or negative.

She acknowledged that it can be challenging at times, but she also highlighted the beauty of her family’s experiences together. “Our life differed from many of our friends and neighbors. But different does not mean worse or sad; merely different. Our opportunities and experiences changed our lives for the better.”  

As Rubin’s journey unfolded, so did the landscape of education, particularly in relation to students with special needs. Rubin remarked, “The education of teachers has also evolved, whereas it used to be you were strictly special education, or you were general education. There’s been more of a mix so that teachers who are going into general education know more about the special education population and have a lot more awareness.”

Rubin is happy to see this shift in the educational system, where the lines between special education and general education have blurred, giving rise to a more inclusive approach. Teachers are no longer confined to their respective silos; they are now equipped with a broader understanding and greater sensitivity towards special needs students.

Through her memoir and tireless advocacy work, Rubin has shattered barriers, challenged stereotypes, and provided solace to parents who often feel alone on this challenging journey. From the early struggles to the triumphs that lie beyond, Rubin hopes that her family’s story can serve as a powerful reminder that love, perseverance, and hope can conquer even the most formidable of obstacles.

“My dream is for families who have the experience of having a child with special needs, is that they gain hope from reading the book and that it shows them they’re not alone,” Rubin said. “Even if you don’t have a child with disabilities, there are so many facets of the book that can help bring up family discussions and acceptance. And, for those who don’t know anyone with a disability, if they just want to know a different family’s perspective, my book can help offer a glimpse into a life that might be different from their own.”