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Raising The Voices of Siblings: Tori Swillum

Tori Swillum and her brother Dylan share a close bond. As twins, the siblings attended school together and grew up side-by-side. Now, at age 23, Tori and Dylan are as close as ever, and she remains dedicated to being an advocate for those with developmental and other disabilities. 

“I am often asked by people ‘when did you realize he had a disability?’ and I never know how to answer. As I got older I realized it, but as a young kid I never saw or thought of him as being different,” Tori said about Dylan, who has Down syndrome. “In first grade, he got held back and I remember that bugged me because it felt like he was being left behind. It ended up being okay though because we still got to see each other even though we were in different grades,” she added. 

She recalls a time in second grade when she defended her brother when he was being mocked. “There was a group of kids pretending to be friendly to Dylan – but as soon as he would leave, they would immediately mock him. One day at the bus stop I told them off!” she said. 

The influence Dylan has had on his sister’s career choices and passions are apparent. Currently, Tori is employed at The Talent Factory, a performing arts center in Rhode Island. She created an adaptive dance program at the studio so children and adults of all abilities could participate in the art of dance. “Throughout high school one of my passions was teaching, and I graduated from Dean College with a Bachelor of Arts in Dance so I knew I couldn’t let go of that. This has allowed me to bring together my passions and promote inclusion,” Tori said. 

In 2019, Tori became a published author when she wrote a book about growing up with Dylan, building inclusion in the world of arts/dance, and the scientific connectivity that twins share. Life In Holland was created because it is a topic she is passionate about, and with the support of faculty at Dean College. “At my college, the founder of the School of Dance would pick 2-4 students a semester to publish books and luckily, I was chosen,” she said and added that she has received “great feedback” about the book since it was published. 

During her time at Timberlane Regional High School, Tori played a major role in the Best Buddies program – a program that brings together people who have disabilities and people who don’t to create meaningful friendships. “The Timberlane community was awesome, and for the most part – very supportive of Dylan,” she said. At Dean College, she became president of the Best Buddies chapter at the school where she was able to continue educating and advocating for people with disabilities. She suggests a way schools can support people with disabilities is to teach all students about the different types of disabilities and what they mean in health class so students can become more accepting at a young age. 

Tori said she believes the bond she shares with her brother is different from the bond their parents share with Dylan. “My parents are super supportive, and also protective of him but since I am a sibling, I like to give him more freedom,” Tori said. Because of her work, she sees the many adaptations and accommodations that are available for someone with a disability in today’s society and how independent someone can be if they are provided the appropriate adaptations. 

Tori said, “I like to think that if Dylan wasn’t my brother, I would still be an advocate for people with disabilities. One thing for certain is that he has created a very different outlook on life for me.”

If you or someone you know is the sibling of someone with a disability – and would like to be interviewed and featured in a future “Raising the Voices of Siblings” story, reach out to Colby Dudal at cdudal@communitycrossroadsnh.org.  

 

 

 

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