Mom explains that if her severely autistic son can get used to wearing a mask, anyone can
Joan Dukovic

As the coronavirus pandemic continues sweeping its way through the world, public health officials everywhere are scrambling to figure out the most effective ways of mitigating it. One of the measures that's proving to be helpful is universal mask-wearing. Though wearing a cloth mask doesn't offer much protection from getting the virus, it does prevent you from spreading the virus—which you may be carrying and not know it—by catching droplets as soon as they leave your mouth. That means we can significantly slow the spread of the virus in public places, but only if everyone wears a mask.

Though the idea is simple, it would be wrong to say that wearing a mask is easy for everyone. As a commenter on one of our recent posts about mask policy protester pointed out, masks can be extra challenging for people with autism or other sensory issues—but that doesn't change the public health reality of the pandemic.

"My son has autism and lots of sensory issues," wrote Joan Dukovic. "He's having a real hard time wearing a mask. I could probably get a medical exclusion from his doctor, but I wouldn't dare!! He will have to learn to deal with it. I've raised him to be a responsible citizen, which sometimes requires sacrifices."

"Today we were buying some plants at an outdoor vendor," she continued. "He let me put his mask on him and wore it as we shopped for about 15 minutes. Then he wanted to take it off. We were nowhere near anyone else, but I gave him the choice of wearing it or going to wait in the car. He chose the car. Which is where this woman belongs, in my opinion. We're all in this together. If you can't wear a mask to help keep others safe, stay home! Order delivery. Kindness matters, especially when it might keep people from getting sick or dying!!!"

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Upworthy reached out to Dukovic to learn more about her and her son's unique perspective and experiences. She is a single mom to her 30-year-old son, Chris, who has severe classic autism and is functionally non-verbal. Dukovic mentioned that her son is prone to meltdowns, which can include yelling and physical aggression. She claims it's been difficult getting him to wear a mask in public. But she knows it's important to teach him to do it anyway.

"When I first realized that he would need to wear a mask, I knew I would need to help him develop the skills and tolerance he'd need," Dukovic says. "That's basically what we've been doing for his whole life whenever a new challenge presents itself."

She consulted with her network of friends—her "village" she calls it—and got some great ideas. Some were using visors for their adult children, but Dukovic knew that would also be a challenge for Chris because of his sensory difficulties.

"But I totally believe in him, and he believes in himself," says Dukovic. "So, we're doing it incrementally. I started by wearing a mask in his presence but not asking him to try. Then we had a graduation drive-by parade where I knew his peers would be wearing masks. Before we left the house, I told him everyone would need to wear their masks if they got out of their cars. And we tried it out, but he wouldn't put one on. But when we got to the meeting place and he saw friends wearing them, he agreed and let me put one in him. Peer pressure at its best!"

Joan Dukovic

Dukovic says that she believes Chris will build up a tolerance to mask-wearing over time. "I'm not sure how much he understands about the virus," she says, "But he knows germs can make us sick. And he knows it's important to be kind and respectful to others."

"I believe in the Golden Rule," says Dukovic."I believe we all have a responsibility to look out for each other. This virus is highly contagious, and a lot of transmission involves pre- or non-symptomatic folks. People are suffering and dying from it. If my son and I can do something as simple as wearing a mask, I believe it's our civic duty. And, well, it's really not simple for my son. Not at all, but he's still a member of society with the same responsibilities as all citizens."

The same responsibilities as all citizens. That truly sums it up. This is an act of collective solidarity we're being asked to participate in to protect our fellow Americans. What could possibly be more patriotic than making a sacrifice for the greater good of your country?

For the folks who resist wearing a mask even though they are perfectly capable of doing so, Dukovic has some advice:

"I guess my message to anyone thinking about not wearing a mask is to think hard about your decision. Think about the essential workers and all the nurses and doctors and people on the front lines. Think about the vulnerable older population in nursing homes who would most likely die if one of their caregivers brought the virus into their facility. Think about them gasping for breath, alone and scared. Ask yourself, is it more important to be 'right' or "'free' or 'comfortable,' or is more important to be kind and considerate in order to prevent the suffering of others and possibly save someone's life? If my son can do it, anyone can do it. And should."

Well said, madam. And well done raising a responsible citizen who can serve as an example to others.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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