Stonington student's career plans inspired by work with autistic children

Stonington High senior Allissa Porter, right, 17, of Mystic communicates using sign language with her brother Robby Porter, 14, who has autism and is deaf, Sunday in the living room of their home.
Stonington High senior Allissa Porter, right, 17, of Mystic communicates using sign language with her brother Robby Porter, 14, who has autism and is deaf, Sunday in the living room of their home. Tim Martin/The Day Buy Photo

Stonington - When Allissa Porter was 3, she anxiously awaited the birth of her brother, Robby, helping her mother prepare his room and putting an ear up to her mother's stomach.

But as Robby became a toddler, Porter wondered why her little brother didn't want to play with her, no matter what she did. She wondered why Robby preferred to play alone and would not speak to her. Most importantly, she wondered why Robby did not love her.

She soon learned it was because Robby was autistic, deaf, legally blind and struggling with other developmental and physical problems. But Porter soon came to realize that her brother had some impressive abilities as well. He is a talented artist, can remember anything and is a whiz with computer technology.

These experiences have led the 17-year-old Stonington High School senior to do volunteer work with autistic children and to write and illustrate a children's book called "Why Doesn't Robby Love Me?" which she is now trying to get published.

This fall, Porter will attend Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa., where she will enter a five-year combined bachelor's and master's degree program in early childhood and special education. The coxswain of the girl's crew team at Stonington High, she has also earned a scholarship to be a member of Mercyhurst's highly ranked Division II crew program.

In addition to working with autistic children after college, Porter is also considering going on to law school so she can become an attorney who deals with disability issues.

Porter said that ever since she was 5 and realized that Robby was special, she knew she wanted to teach the deaf. That desire has expanded to work with children with other disabilities.

Robby, now 14, attends the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford.

Porter's parents, Sherri and Jamie Zummo, said their daughter has a talent for working with autistic children.

"It just comes easy to me. Being around Robby and kids with autism, I want to be able to make a difference in their lives, like Robby's teachers have made in his life and my parents' lives," Porter said.

Her parents said that because caring for a child like Robby is a 24-hour-a-day challenge, some siblings can feel like they are left out or ignored.

They said they always wanted Porter to have a normal life and not feel as if she has to be Robby's guardian and caretaker. But Porter has always helped out and spent time with her brother.

"I'm in awe of the woman she is today," Sherri Zummo said. "As a parent, I'm extremely proud of her."

"If she wasn't our daughter," Jamie Zummo added, "we'd still think she was a tremendous person."

If Porter is successful in getting her book published, she said she would like to set up a nonprofit organization that would use the book's proceeds to help organizations that assist children with special needs.

"My dream is (to) set up that organization," she said.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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