Introducing Grace Strobel!

By Grace Strobel | Published on October 20, 2020 | 10 Minute Read

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself!

Hi! My name is Grace Strobel, I’m 24 yrs old and I was born with Down syndrome- but Down syndrome does not define me. I am a model, a speaker, an athlete and an activist.

2. If there was one thing that you would tell people who don’t know anything about autism, what would you tell them?

That Down syndrome isn’t a bad or scary thing to have. I take a little longer to learn, I might go a bit slower and have more difficulty with things but my life is just like anyone else's. I have a job and a career, friends, hobbies, a social life and I am learning to live on my own because I’d like to get married and have a house of my own!

3. When/how did you begin modeling and how has it affected your life?

About two years ago, I was volunteering at a private school helping in the lunchroom. One day, while working, I was confronted by several groups of kids who were teasing me. My mom, who was my job coach and on-site at the time, saw what was going on.

They were all lined up around me wanting help opening up small containers like milk cartons and fruit cups- which is harder for me to do, but I can do it. So my mom walked over to the table, and said, 'Hey guys, can I help you?' . "And they said 'No, we want her to help us”- pointing at me.

When my mom asked why -they started busting out laughing and said, 'Oh, because we know she can't do it.' My whole world came crashing down. I was nauseated, my face went ash white, and then I just lost it and started sobbing. I cried off and on for over a week, was severely depressed and I didn’t want to go back to work.

That incident began the journey of a lifetime for my mom and me. We were inspired to start The Grace Effect, a presentation for schools about overcoming obstacles, treating people with kindness and respect, and living with a disability. My mom and I have presented to around 3,000 students at over 100 schools about what it’s like to live with a disability.

We spent months researching the disability. As we were Googling information for the Grace Effect presentation, we came across another girl, a model with Down Syndrome – and I asked my mom if I could do that too. She said, “ I don’t see why not--- Lets Do This Grace ! So my mom hired a photographer and posted the photos to social media.

They went viral and had 220,000 shares in two weeks. Since then, I have been featured in Forbes, on The Today Show and in 15 different magazine publications, with three cover stories. I have been interviewed on TV and radio, walked the runway for Runway Of Dreams New York Fashion Week and Atlantic City Fashion Week. I am also an ambassador for Be Strong Global- a national organization empowering youth to prevent bullying.

"It’s OKAY to be you. Find role models who inspire you. We are all unique and different and we all have different gifts and talents. "

4. What else do you do outside of advocacy?

I also have a part-time job at our parish school- St. Alban Roe Catholic School in Wildwood, MO. I work in the office, in the cafeteria and read books to the little ones. I love this job so much because I am valued, respected and have a sense of belonging. I also love doing Tik Toks and Instagram Reels!

5. What advice would you give to empower people who have special needs?

I would say look at the gifts and talents you’ve been given- whether it is your amazing smile, your ability to sort and organize things, your methodical pace or your willingness to just be a hard worker and capitalize on that. It’s OKAY to be you. Find role models who inspire you. We are all unique and different and we all have different gifts and talents. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and support you. Pick a dream, a goal and go for it- knowing it might be more work than you ever imagined but it will be worth it !

As a side note, I struggle with a stutter- so learning to become a public speaker, and talking to the same type of audience that once made fun of you was not an easy road. I practiced non-stop for 6 months (6 days a week) on my presentation: changed words that made me stutter, learned how to have good eye-contact, learned about pacing and volume control and I memorized a great deal of the 45 min presentation. It pushed my mom and I more than we knew we could stretch but we did it and then I kept getting better and better.

6. Who are the people in your life who have helped you become the person you are today?

First and foremost, my parents. They refused to believe in the bleak future that was given to them at my birth. They were told there was not much they could do to help me- that I wouldn’t achieve much in my life and that I would be a burden on them. They also said that I could be adopted out, or put in an institution.

My family has always believed in something better for me, and put in the extra work and time to bring out my gifts and talents. I had some good friends at school when I was growing up that treated me like everyone else, and that felt great. My therapists have helped me achieve things and move me forward in all ways. And I have an incredibly supportive church and faith. At church, I was given the chance to show my abilities by being an altar server and lector. People believed in me, supported me and gave me a chance to succeed. It's hard to step out and be vulnerable in learning new things, but my mom has always told me there is strength in the struggle!

7. What is one common myth about autism that you think is not true?

That people with Down syndrome are always happy. Ha haha !! Not true. I get mad, angry, jealous, frustrated and sad just like everyone else. And my sister ticks me off a lot.

8. What and where are the best resources that have helped you along the way?

When I was young- my mom did a home program with me called NACD – National Academy of Child Development which helped me a great deal. We worked on all different aspects of my development but it also gave my parents a roadmap and a belief system. Finding a group of friends that you can have past formal education. Connecting with your local Down syndrome support groups.

9. Where can our readers connect with you online?

I’m on Facebook @ Grace Strobel / Instagram : grace_strobel / Twitter: Grace _ Strobel - I LOVE new followers, especially on Instagram!!

10. Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

Let no one predetermine your life. Step out and be vulnerable, sometimes our greatest sorrows are our biggest triumphs.

About the Author

Grace Strobel

Hi! My name is Grace Strobel, I’m 24 yrs old and I was born with Down syndrome- but Down syndrome does not define me. I am a model, a speaker, an athlete and an activist.