Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Whole New World

by Deborah Hopson

I remember when I was first hired as a direct care provider for individuals with autism. A bit different from my prior experience working for others with disabilities, I had no idea what to expect. Though a bit intimidated, I would soon learn I was entering a special world.

My first assigned client was Steven, who has autism, male, mid thirties, stubborn and blind! My immediate thought: “How would I pull this off?” But once I met him, we meshed right away. I was also in my thirties and pretty persistent; we would get along just fine (I hoped).

During my initial observation, I saw that Steven was just like you and me. He had rights like you and me. And he had needs like you and me. Good, I thought, “treat others as you would like to be treated.” Never again did I feel intimidated or reluctant, only excited and challenged each and every day.

My mission was to help Steven develop some independence. Establishing a rapport, slowly and attentively, as I was trained, I was determined we would find a way to successfully achieve this goal. This would be the beginning of a long friendship. I even created a special way to identify myself when saying “hello.” As a routine was created, Steven began to function independently, performing daily living tasks with little to no supervision necessary. A favorite memory is of a time after dinner, Steven was cleaning up and I had to answer the door, when I returned, he had independently loaded the dishwasher and started it! I jumped for joy when I discovered he had correctly loaded it, as we had been working on this goal for some time. Getting that silverware in those small slots was a challenge, and he did it! Steven felt accomplished and I felt proud of the work we’d done together.

Consistency and repetition became the best way to accomplish our goals, and would become my “rule of thumb” when working with not only Steven, but with all of my clients. Throughout my many years working with children and adults with autism, I realized that each person is truly “individualized.” Sure they may have some of the same traits of autism (turning around in circles, rocking back and forth), but these are only a couple of the many behaviors they share.

All in all people with autism are just like the “average Joe,” they just need a hand to help them out of the starting gates. Although he is no longer my primary client, I still get to visit with Steven from time to time, and he still remembers our special sign for “hello.” I am reminded that autism is a lifelong disorder that affects many, which is why it is even more important for us to do what we can to make it better for these children and adults.
Deborah has been with the Autism Treatment Center for 20 years, and has worked in various roles with both the children and adults in the program.

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