Saturday, 10 January 2015

The Amazing Angela!! A Post For Those Who Ever Wondered What Its Like to Work With "Our Kids"

Years ago, when my son was attending day respite at The Geneva Centre For Autism  we connected with a fabulous worker. Years later I met her again when I was volunteering at GCA in an adult day program. Low and behold, I was working with her cousin. We have stayed in contact because she is just so AU-some!

How Au-some is she??

She wrote this post on Facebook today. With her permission, I've copied it below. It is wonderful knowing others see our children as spectacular as we do, and knowing that such exceptional people are in our childrens' lives.  

(REALLY long post ahead) SO I was going through some very old emails and I just realized that this month, TEN years ago, I started working in the field of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)! My very first volunteer placement from the Geneva Centre for Autism (GCA) was off-site at a little daycare with the sweetest 3-year-old boy, whom I later worked with for 2+ more years doing respite work in the home/in the community. I really cherished my time with this little guy (taking him to Mickey D's and chasing birds mostly) and I immediately fell in love with this field! In my email to the volunteer coordinator at the time, I wrote, "I look forward to a very challenging yet equally, if not more rewarding experience". Well, let me tell you past-Angela, it is the MOST rewarding experience you will EVER have!
Ten years later, I am still passionate and still in love with this field, more than ever. I cannot even begin to express how much my life has changed and how much sheer joy I have experienced from working in this field and being introduced to the most adorable, incredible, creative, inspirational, amazing, courageous, etc. individuals! Of course, there have been MANY challenges along the way! It wouldn't be so rewarding if it weren’t so challenging, right? Oh, the biting, the kicking, the screaming--so much screaming, the excretion of bodily fluids... But hey, you just learned to love that much harder!
Being in this field has taught me so much and I know I have grown as a person in ways that I never would have otherwise. I have learned to appreciate (what seems like) the littlest things (like a child responding to their name for the first time), to have patience in the most TRYING moments (ohhh, you know), to laugh after the most spectacular meltdowns (tornados had nothing on this little guy), to keep a straight face for proloooonged periods of time (seriously, so. Much. Screaming.), to have reflexes like a ninja from “bolters” and “projectiles”, to give freely and to love unconditionally.
I have also learned every song from Blue’s Clues (with actions!), Dora the Explorer, Frozen, etc. and I know more “circle time songs” than any one person should ever know, including made up ones (“ping pong is a game, I like to play ping pong, table tennis is another name for it”)! I have also learned to draw almost any character from Treehouse (quickly and repeatedly), to name every Wiggles/Teletubbies/In the Night Garden/Yo Gabba Gabba/etc. character and to differentiate between Toopy (mouse) and Binoo (cat). I have also learned that accidents happen (now and again, just when you least expect). PS. I still think that song is terrible.
I have learned to be creative (101 ways to use velcro), to be resourceful, to think on my feet no matter what the situation (hey, remember that time we had to switch activities every 2 mins. for a total of about 90 activities per 3hrs. to eliminate the “boredom” factor? No? Me neither.), and to operationally define almost any behaviour in the most specific of terms (flopping: characterized by the child having 50% or more of his/her body in contact with the ground from a standing or seated position). And I have acronyms coming out of my ears (ABA, IBI, IBISP, BSP, OT, SLP, CPI, etc.)! Need a visual? I’ll make you one using Boardmaker with my eyes closed!
All the things I have learned and all the things I have loved and still love about the field of ASD is immeasurable! But I have loved it all--every single moment of the last ten years. I look forward to ten more, twenty more, thirty more--forever more! I’m not done with you yet!
Thanks for reading and sharing in my joy! If you also work in this field, I know you know exactly how I feel. And isn’t it the best thing in the world?

A couple of years ago during Autism Awareness month, I posted 18 statuses with cute/funny/quirk things that an individual with ASD has said or done. I'm going to re-post them now to mark my Ten Years! Enjoy!
1. Walking down the hallway with a kid while he's holding a cup of juice. Me: "What flavour is your juice?"Kid: "Rainbows! It's full of rainbows!"
2. Sometimes during summer camp, one of the kids who had a lot of sensory needs, would sit in a corner with her noise canceling headphones and a colourful scarf over her head while paging through the latest grocery flyer. This was her at her absolute calmest. If you approached her and were lucky enough, she would gently touch your face with the back of her fingers and smile.
3. This kid's favourite game to play is Hide and Seek. He plays it about 5 times a day (per his "Initiating Play" program). Every time he hides, it's pretty much the EXACT same hiding spot every single time (lying down on the floor under a yoga mat). After you've faked a few "oh, I'm gonna check here" or "did he go home?" and you finally uncover the mat, his expression is that of sheer delight, as if he's never played the game before! (And sometimes while you're counting or searching for him, you can hear him giggling with anticipation and the yoga mat moving ever so slightly from his bells of laughter).
4. This happened 5 minutes ago. This sweet little kid sneezed beside me while doing a puzzle. She looked up at me for a second as if waiting for something, then said "bless you" loudly, and proceeded with her puzzle.
5. One of the strategies we use with the kiddos is "first-then" contingency--first do this (demand) then you get this (reinforcement). One of the kids really wanted to play trains so we told him "first lunch, then trains". He replied, "no first--no lunch--no then"!!
6. One year, we did a production about an evening variety show. This individual's role was a caller, calling in to give shout outs to her whole family, her friends, random celebrities, her hairdresser, her mechanic, etc. During a rehearsal run through, the line she was supposed to say was, "... And hi to Oprah if she's watching, and to those kids from High School Musical..." however, she did a bit of improv and said, "... And hi to Oprah, that big woman on TV..." Ha!
7. This adorable kid was using pictures with us to communicate (Picture Exchange Communication System). He had a picture that said "tickle" and he requested that pretty frequently. One day, he spontaneously said something that sounded like "kickle" which resulted in cheers and of course, many tickles. I'll never forget his beaming smile and delightful laughter. It was almost as if at that very moment he realized his spoken words had power. Needless to say, he said "kickle" many, many more times that day and for days after.
8. Individuals with autism sometimes engage in something called, "scripting" (or delayed echolalia), which basically is repeating something that they've heard from movies, tv shows, etc. not directed at anybody in particular (may be self-stimulatory). So one of the kids I used to work with would script all the time--from tv shows, music lyrics, things his mom or teachers said, etc. One day, while doing his work, he just blurted out, "NOW I HAVE A REASON TO BE THIN!" I died.
9. As some of you know, I have an older cousin with autism. Growing up, he would always peel labels, especially from bottles and cans. We had a lot canned food like beans, corn, and of course, my favourite Spaghetti-Os! One time he came over and when he left, all of our canned food was missing labels and we had no way of knowing what was in the cans! Everytime we opened a can, it was always a surprise! (Later on, my aunt mentioned that they locked all of their canned food in a closet)
10. Every time this kid would read the book "Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?", we would hear slow ripping sounds. When we would look over at him, he would look up at us with guilty eyes and stop ripping and pretend to read the book (secretly he was still ripping which was really funny in itself). We soon realized that he was ripping out the eyes of each of the animals in the book! We had no idea why but he just didn't stop until the poor whistling zookeeper at the end was also missing his eyes. This kid left our program a while ago but the current kids continue to read this book everyday, and I can't help but fondly think about him and the legacy he's left us in the form of ripped out eyes.
11. We've all heard of the old adage: WWJD? Well, this individual goes by another one: WWBS? Which stands for "What Would Buffy Say"?
12. I worked with the funniest most brilliant boy with Asperger's Syndrome. He had the ummm... delightful gift of "no filter", also, he idolized The Simpsons. One time, we were strolling down a peaceful street and he suddenly yelled really loudly to a group of people on the other side, "GO HOME HIPPIES!" Now, I can't remember if they actually were "hippies" or not but I had to refrain from laughing while explaining why it wasn't appropriate to make such comments to strangers. Especially to groups of strangers who could probably run a lot faster than we could.
13. This is for my co-worker whose a year older today!! When this little guy sang happy birthday, he always ended it with "Wallaby, wallaby"! Hehe.
14. One of the most endearing kids I've ever worked with used to pronounce "rocket ship" as "what-da-shit". Incidentally, we would sing the song, "Zoom Zoom" (about a what-da-shit going to the moon) almost everyday.
15. This is about the same oh-so-endearing kid yesterday. He loved socially interacting with his instructors and was a total ham when he wanted to be. One day he started doing his "shake your boom boom" dance with the cute booty shake but this time when he sang it, he said "shake your boom boom, shake your boom boom, shake yo ASS".
16. Often times working in this field, you just don't know if the individuals you support know who you are, especially if they're non-verbal or have limited speech. It's nice sometimes to get a sign of some sort. This one little guy who started off with limited verbal communication (1-2 words), would always "greet" you by saying whatever phrase/song/action he associated you with. It was the sweetest thing whenever he saw you and said/did whatever thing he paired you with, which was then met with the most over-the-top praise (of course), and delight shining in his adorable face. For example, whenever he saw me, he grabbed my hands and started chanting "a polar bear, a polar bear" while dancing from side-to-side, since we always read that book together. It was later changed to "A-wooooooo!" (howling wolf from "Walking Through the Jungle" book). If you were a recipient of a special little greeting, it just warmed your heart.
17. For the past few weeks, my current primary kiddo has been obsessed with stating things are "broken" and following it by saying the statement, "I'll buy it" or "go buy it". One day, I showed him a "boo boo" on my finger and he touched it gently and stated, "Angela is broken" (pronounced bow-kin), "I'll buy Angela".
18. The hardest part about this job, or this field, is goodbyes. I suppose that goes for life really, but there's just something about these individuals that leave such an impression on your heart. One of the most memorable kids I've ever worked with, captured my heart and never let it go. When he left our program, my heart just shattered! And I guess his did too. Apparently, months after he left, he still said, "Angela?" every single morning! It was half a year before he came to visit us, and that was only because he had finally stopped asking for me/us. I guess we do leave more of an impression on these individuals than we think, and they do remember us and the integral part we've played in their lives. Now, doesn't that make it all just SO worth it?
(April 2013)
I must add 2 more!!
19. More recently, when this girl would get upset at us for whatever reason, she would say/shout, “GOLIAS!!” We initially thought she was calling us “Goliath” and therefore a giant but we soon found out that it was the big, blue (invisible) elephant from “My Big, Big Friend”! This amusing discovery definitely helped keep the spirits high during these tougher moments!
20. This one happened just a few weeks ago with my current primary, aka, the most adorable 4 year old girl in the world. She loves the book “Dear Zoo” which goes, “I wrote to the zoo to send me a _(pet)_, it was too _(adjective)_ so I sent it back”. During her exit routine one day, I put on her leopard hat (much to her delight) and another staff walked by and said, “Ohh it’s too small! Angela’s head is too big!” to which she replied, “So I sent it back!” 

Never a dull moment!

And never a dry eye!! Thank you for the beautiful words Angela, as parents of children with special needs children, we often worry whether our children are actually being cared for adequately when we are not around. With people like you working with them, we know our children are not just cared for, but cared about. From the deepest parts of my soul, and from every member of my family, THANK YOU

ps, #5 is my Eric, many many years ago, but he still says that lol!! And I was present for #6, That Dramaway production was THE best theatrical experience I have ever had and some of the greatest laughs!!! 

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