After graduating from Wausau West High School, Madison Hansen knew she wanted to go to college. The big question, like for many high school graduates, was: for what?
She started by taking classes at UW-Marathon County, a two-year college in the University of Wisconsin System. Then, she transferred to UW-La Crosse for the occupational therapy major.
Still, she wasn’t quite sure. During those first couple of years of post-high school discovery, she began to realize something — what she was really good at and what truly inspired her.
Hansen has a brother, Dayton, 15 months younger than her with a disability. He has autism and is on the severe end of the spectrum. One characteristic is that he’s nonverbal, which can make communication challenging. “He needs help with everything, but he still smiles and still laughs. He finds joy in his life,” Hansen said.
Being around Dayton, she learned how to love people unconditionally and for what makes them special. “It was mostly my job as an older sister to take Dayton under my wing and help my mom and dad as best I could, but it also turned into loving Dayton as he is.
“I wouldn’t be the person I am if it wasn’t for my brother. He’s the one who opened me up to everything. He showed me that life can be imperfect but perfect,” said Hansen, the oldest of three siblings, including sister Lexi, who is in high school.
Even though Hansen had gone away to college in part to get a break from her home environment, she found that she missed it and missed Dayton.
She took a semester off and went home. Then, she clearly saw her career path — working with special needs children like her brother.