By Richard Burnett
Each day, Emily Abramson stands at the side of preschool children with learning issues whose emotions run the gamut from sadness to gladness. As an early childhood education professional, her task is to help them crack the code of their challenges and reach their potential.
Part-tutor, part-counselor and part-teacher, Abramson knows the road these children are traveling — the ups and downs, wins and losses. She’s been there, diagnosed as a child with Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD, and dyscalculia — a cognitive disorder that impairs math abilities.
Now, the Rockville, Maryland native shares her insights to lift up the special needs children of the Rosemount Center in Washington, D.C., a bilingual child development center that serves many of the poorer families in the northwest D.C. area.
“There are good days and tough days, but I can say I’ve never had a bad day at work there,” said Abramson, 28, a magna cum laude graduate of Beacon College in 2019. “I love this job, I love the kids and I have great work friends, more than any other place I’ve worked before.”
Warming up to special needs kids
Boosted by therapists, teachers and her parents’ tireless support, Abramson worked an engaging lineup of jobs before, during, and since her years at Beacon. She was a school disability inclusion advocate, peer tutor/teaching assistant at Beacon, camp counselor for special needs children, and child development assistant at a day school.
At Beacon, she earned a bachelor’s degree in human services and psychology, with a concentration in education. Abramson credits her Beacon experience with equipping her for the Rosemount job, which involves collaborating with teachers, analyzing lesson plans and working individually with students who are having learning problems.
“I focus on the kids that may have learning disabilities,” she said. “My boss told me it might take a long time to develop a rapport with the children, but I was able to warm up to them pretty quickly. I’m working with one little boy now who is totally nonverbal, but he does listen to me. I’m the only one he listens to. It’s really meaningful work when you can reach kids like that.”
A ‘classroom savior’ steps up
The work resonates with Abramson, who experienced her own share of learning problems in the early childhood and teenage years. It was a confusing and frustrating time, she said, marked by academic highs in areas such as English and musical theater, and perplexing lows in all things math — except, surprisingly, geometry.
Some of the math teachers didn’t know what to make of her problems, according to Abramson. In high school, one of them accused her of being lazy, of not really trying. The criticism turned hostile and abusive. One day, the teacher called Abramson stupid, in front of the entire class — a traumatic event that took her years to overcome.
Later, however, one of the math support teachers would step up to help bring healing: “She was so, so patient with me,” Abramson said. “When I would get extreme math anxiety — because of the abuse from the former teacher — she would take the time to help me get through it. She was the kind of person who made you happy to know them.”
‘Her positive attitude was contagious’
Her Beacon experience took that healing to the next level — but it took some time, according to Dr. A.J. Marsden, associate professor of human services and psychology, who taught Abramson in a number of classes.
“She had a lot of past trauma that she was carrying with her and she was hesitant at first to make a connection,” Marsden said. “But as time went on, she started to make friends and succeed in her classes, and her confidence started to grow.”
A major breakthrough came when she began dating now-husband Ari Berkowitz, a math whiz who brought love into her life, along with badly needed help with her math problems. The couple married in May 2021.
“When she started dating Ari, her confidence soared,” Marsden said. “Her positive attitude was absolutely contagious and she loved to make us smile.”
Abramson credits Marsden with playing a central role in her success at Beacon and being a role model “who was hands-down one of the best teachers I’ve ever had.
“She was patient with students, made time for them and got to know them,” she added. “Anytime I had a problem of any kind, I could talk to her. I’m so blessed I got to know her. I always think about her when I’m working with kids now, trying to make a difference in their lives.”