Gina Marie Incandela is a 6 year old girl who donates her time and performances to various charitable organizations and causes on a regular basis. She addressed the community needs for education and awareness of many causes such as autism and cancer.
The community and the world are different as a result of Gina's efforts. She touches people in a very special way and draws attention to issues within the community that affect almost all members at some point in time. She uses her voice to reach people that might never have given such issues any thought, if not for seeing and hearing Gina.
Gina is special because when she was about two years old she was diagnosed with PDD NOS (a form of autism). Gina could not speak at age two, so her parents sought evaluations that led to the diagnosis. In addition to a speech and language delay, Gina did not have age appropriate social skills. She had poor eye contact, sensory issues and feeding issues. She had difficulty transitioning and did not adapt well to new environments. She was often afraid in public and could not tolerate noisy places such as theme parks or carnivals. She had odd behaviors such as scratching the floors and walls and stacking her toys instead of playing with them. She had no imaginary play skills, and when she went to a playground, she showed no interest in other children. Gina would simply pick up sticks and rocks.
The doctors that diagnosed Gina were unable to state whether her condition would improve or worsen. They were unable to tell her parents whether Gina would ever be able to speak. The doctor's advice was to enroll her in a specialized program as quickly as possible to give her the best chance to overcome her disabilities. Gina started attending the UCP Charter School in Osceola County in a full time day program.
Unfortunately, many families are sharing the experience of such a diagnosis more frequently every day. Gina received various therapies including occupation, speech and language and behavioral. Gina is now in "regular" class at a private school. She still receives therapy at school and at home but continues to thrive and advance.
Gina has worked very hard over the past few years to reach every goal set for her. Now, this young lady that once was unable to speak is using her voice to reach others in a very special way. Gina had many volunteer performances during 2008. She was a part of the UCP Celebrity Gala hosted by Cheryl Hines of HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," American Cancer Society's Relay for Life in Orlandao, Lake Buena Vista and Celebration Florida, the UCP of Central Florida Combined Graduation Ceremony, and the UCP National Conference in Washington, DC. These are only a handful of the many opportunities Gina has completed to volunteer her time and skills.
Gina still has to work hard each day to function in a world which she perceives much differently than most; however, she gives her very best effort each and every day. Gina never gives up even with the personal challenges she faces. She is a shining example of what children with disabilities are capable of when they are given the tools they need to succeed. She hopes many other children with disabilities and their parents will be inspired to set goals, reach them and fulfill their dreams.