Meet the Principe Family

Twenty-one years ago, like most young parents affected by autism spectrum disorder, Joe and Deanna Principe were looking for answers and a support system that would help them help their children. Their daughter, Sami, had just been diagnosed with autism and their son, Joey, who would be diagnosed with autism six years later, had many needs that were unique to his development. 

Full of the common emotions so many parents feel when given an autism diagnosis – anxiety, fear, worry, and sadness – Deanna went to her first parent coffee hour sponsored by Autism Delaware. In that first meeting, she found people who understood what she was going through, people who would become part of a support system that has grown and become an important part of her life and that she still leans on after 21 years.

Talking with other parents of children with autism, Deanna discovered she was not a bad mom.

She found out that she wasn’t the only mother of a four-year-old who wasn’t potty trained yet. She learned where and how to get vital resources to help everyone in her family, especially her children. She connected with a community of other moms and dads on a similar and equally difficult journey with autism, making life just a little easier for her and Joe as they shared their highs and lows with people who understood. 

Sami and Joey Principe as children

“Because Sami is nonverbal, with some big social-emotional deficits, it’s almost like we have to read her mind,” Deanna says. “But I don’t get the huge panic attacks I used to get. We learned to prepare for every scenario and care less what people think. Those were two of the biggest lessons other families had to teach us.” 

Joe and Deanna’s support from Autism Delaware started with that parent coffee hour, moved into the family navigation program, and then naturally grew into our adult services as Sami and Joey reached adulthood. Because of their engagement with the help we provide, Joe, Deanna, Joey, and Sami have become integral members of our Autism Delaware family.

Joe Principe with Joey and Sami at The Walk for Autism.

Deanna just celebrated 13 years as the event manager for Autism Delaware. Starting as a volunteer who answered phones one day a week, she now leads signature events like the Drive for Autism, the Walk for Autism, and the Blue Jean Ball.

In 2021, Joe was honored with the Governors Outstanding Service Volunteer Award for his tireless volunteerism and dedicated support for Autism Delaware.

Over the years, he has been an Autism Delaware sponsor, committee member, volunteer, and fundraiser as well as a mentor to others. Their family Walk for Autism team, known as the Principe Puzzle Pack, is always one of our top fundraising teams each year. 

Joe explains, “We help now because families helped us. The truth is, they are still helping us because it’s still hard. And sometimes it’s still sad. But we got so much help and it feels good to help other families now.” 

The Principe family will tell you that they got so much from other families when their autism journey began and that’s what motivates them to engage, give, and inspire others families in their journey with autism.

More to the Story


Sami Principe in graduation cap and gown

Sami is 23 years old now.

She just began her participation in the adult vocational services program and plans are underway for her and another participant to manage the Autism Delaware merchandise store. She loves Lady and The Tramp, her iPad and Taylor Swift (the country version). Though Sami is still nonverbal and going through new challenges, now she is being supported in the POW&R program and learning new skills. 

Sami Principe in graduation cap and gown

Joey Principe is 25 years old.

He is employed at Marshalls through his participation in Autism Delaware’s nationally recognized adult vocational program. He also volunteers making videos and other media content for the Walk for Autism. Joey loves video games and making videos. He is a true artist. He doesn’t love his job but he likes it. He’s a big help at home with his sister. His favorite thing to do is dress up on Halloween and pass out candy, in character, including the character’s voice. This year he was Santa Claus.

Deanna remembers the early days when they first got involved in the autism community, bowling with other families, going to coffee hours, and getting lots of advice from Autism Delaware family support staff and other, more mature families. She recently started a virtual Mom’s group called “Wine Down Wednesdays” to help her and other moms during the pandemic. It’s still going strong and now they meet in person some weeks. “This is not part of my job,” she says. “This is for me and another way for me to give back.”

“Build your village – you will need it,” Joe and Deanna advise young families. “Have patience. Make relationships in school and out of school. Find similar situations as yours. Get connected. Get support. Get involved.”

We invite your family to continue the legacy of Autism Delaware.

We are families helping families helping families. Join our mission today!
The Principe family in Santa hats.