Jacquelyn Jablonski Recasts The Future for Adults With Autism
Yesterday, if you had happened upon Jacquelyn Jablonski, the New Jersey-born model best known for her work with Victoria’s Secret and Calvin Klein, you would’ve seen her glued to her phone. And while the same might be true of most other top models in the industry today, they’re most likely sending selfie-minded texts, and not emailing about the launch of their new non-profit organization for Autism. Today, at Milk Studios, Jablonski will be launching Autism Tomorrow, her own foundation that strives to provide lodgings, employment, and overall quality living conditions for adults with autism.
You probably recognize Jablonski from the numerous campaigns she’s fronted and shows she’s walked. A frequent fixture in i-D and Vogue, Jablonski is part of the upper echelon of top models—and to meet her in person is to understand why. Yet as impressive as these feats may be, they’re not the sum of her parts. Jablonski is, first and foremost, a woman, a daughter, and a sister—and it’s this last title that may have had the biggest impact on whom she is today.
Having grown up with a younger brother on the severe end of the autism spectrum, Jablonski has experienced, firsthand, both the struggles and the misconceptions that people with autism are forced to endure. Now, at 20 years old, her brother Tommy, like so many others out there today, is left with little options for a normal future. And this shouldn’t be taken lightly—not in the year 2000, when the rate of autism was one in 150, and certainly not now, when it’s apparently increased to one in 68.
Jablonski first got involved with the autism community by attending events, every so often, with her mother. Then she started working with Autism Speaks, a leading scientific and advocacy foundation. Now, two events’ worth of party-planning later, she’s launching a non-profit of her own—of which Milk founder Mazdack Rassi is on the board.
Ultimately, Jablonski is a woman who was inspired to use her substantial platform to make a difference in the autism community; as a public figure, she’s making more of a difference than she’ll ever know. She’s offering an unadorned, honest, and selfless glimpse into her life—one that’s rarely seen in the fashion industry today.
“Schooling, for the most part, ends at the age of 21 for these young adults [with autism] and it’s like—what’s next?”
The event tonight is a silent auction, right? What kind of stuff will be auctioned off?
I think we have around 40 prints—maybe more—from photographers in the industry. [It’s] really cool stuff, [and] really interesting to see the personal work from some of the photographers you normally work with in the industry.
What’s been the most rewarding thing to happen to you since starting to work with the autism community?
It’s been exciting to hear people’s stories—[and especially] now that I’ve been talking more about the adults, and hearing parents and families and other people in the autism community. Being able to relate [is really important for me].
Schooling, for the most part, ends at the age of 21 for these young adults [with autism] and it’s like—what’s next? So that’s why I really wanted to start this foundation, to focus on more opportunities for the adults. And it’s amazing to see all the support along the way—from the autism community and people in the industry. Everyone has their own story, and that’s been really awesome.
Is your brother involved in Autism Tomorrow?
He’s on the severe end of the spectrum and—it’s difficult, I’m not sure if he fully understands. I think, once he arrives at the event tomorrow, he’ll still be a bit confused—I think he likes to pretend he doesn’t like the attention, but I’m sure he will. He definitely inspired me along with hundreds of thousands [of others]. There are many Tommys out there. There are hundreds of thousands out there, reaching adulthood, this year, with no clear path for what’s next.
What do you think has been the most important or significant thing your brother has taught you?
I think he taught me not to be so serious. When I was younger, I used to get embarrassed when he would act out in public. I mean, you go through that phase, similar to when you’re embarrassed of your parents—I guess it’s middle school, high school—when you’re embarrassed of everything. Now, I take a moment instead of getting embarrassed. And I’m like, oh you know what? He’s kind of right. That is funny. Even though he burst out laughing in a public place, I’m like, that was silly what that person did. You know, I just take am moment and see where he’s coming from.
They’re smart, they just have trouble expressing what they want to say or how they feel and they do it in a different way. So now I take a moment to think before I just [judge].
Do you think this is something you’ll eventually want to transition into doing full time?
I think so. I hope for this to be a success and I hope to [hold this event] at least once a year. This year, all the money raised will go towards transition programs, [which] will provide [people with autism] with the skills they need when their schooling ends. So maybe some can live on their own, or have a part-time job. And then when the event is over, we’ll receive the applications for these programs, see what we feel the most passionate about. I kept the mission statement open because I just want to create [as many] opportunities for these young adults [as possible].
Is there someone whose support you couldn’t have done this without?
Well Rassi has been supportive from the beginning—Rassi’s been awesome. He came to my first event with Autism Speaks when it was very very small, and he was one of the first people I asked to be on my board because he has been so supportive and very passionate about it and that’s been amazing. He’s the first person I asked.
My agents at IMG have been really supportive [too]. They were the ones who gave me the push to start it. Because, when I first moved to [IMG], [I laid out everything] I wanted to do. And they were like, let’s do it, why wait? Don’t wait another year; let’s get it started. So my agents, Jen and Liz, pushed me.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about autism?
I think people misunderstand that it’s a spectrum disorder and there are many levels of severity. [Those with] less severe autism versus [those with] more severe autism are the same in a lot of ways, but [they’re also very] different at the same time.
Since working in this field, what accomplishment are you most proud of?
Since I started modeling, it’s been amazing to help raise awareness for autism—you know, using social media and everything. It’s really enjoyable to see people reaching out on Instagram, on Twitter, people asking questions, how to get involved. It’s nice to feel like you’re making a difference. And having a voice.
Find out more about Autism Tomorrow here.
All images shot exclusively for Milk by Ben Taylor.
Stay tuned to Milk for more info on Autism Tomorrow.