I shared a post last week describing Jill’s House, a facility that provides “a rhythm of care” through respite services for children with special needs. Today Jennifer Reynolds, who works at Jill’s House, shares some thoughts about her experience:
Every child we have served at Jill’s House has taught someone, somewhere a lesson. The children we serve have intellectual disabilities, often accompanied by severe behaviors, medical needs, or an inability to communicate. The stress of raising these children leaves their parents in desperate need of a break. Jill’s House steps in to provide a weekly or monthly overnight break for parents, celebrating the children while renewing their families.
These kids are constantly teaching their families, friends and caretakers lessons ranging from gaining a new appreciation for life to something as simple as learning a new sign for an object. Working with children is a blessing and if you remain open to their influence, you can often reap unexpected rewards that can influence your life.
In one instance I worked with a nonverbal, ten-year old child named Alex (name has been changed for child’s privacy). Alex has autism and could only pronounce a few letters and most of his sounds all sounded very similar depending on the circumstance. Alex was usually a very sweet child but occasionally his lack of communication capabilities would frustrate him. His frustration could manifest itself through significant aggressive acts towards himself and those around him.
One afternoon at Jill’s House, Alex and I were spending an enjoyable time and everything seemed to be going smoothly. Alex suddenly and unexpectedly began acting out, ignoring my efforts to reconnect with him. He dropped to the floor and began having a bit of a tantrum. I was initially taken aback, not knowing where this came from since he had been doing so well all day. After multiple attempts to redirect the meltdown and unsuccessfully trying to get his mind on something else, I was at my wit’s end and frustrated with myself for not knowing what to do.
Across the room, I saw one of our iPads. I grabbed the iPad and pulled up the iCommunicate application. iCommunicate has an extensive list of vocabulary words to assist children with verbalizing what they otherwise cannot. When Alex realized what I was doing, he sat up and reached for the iPad. After handing it to him, he was able to scroll through the list of words and explain to me that he wanted: a snack and milk.
Watching his face light up when suddenly I was able to understand exactly what he wanted was priceless. He finally was able to communicate exactly what he needed, how he felt and what he wanted to do! It was amazing to realize how something so simple can mean so much.
Once Alex settled down, the incident made me reflect on how we can take the simple ability to communicate through an incredible number of mediums for granted. Sounds, words, writing, twitter, Facebook, and cellphones all are parts of our lives and give us a voice to express a wide range of emotions. Something as simple as, “Hey, I’m starving right now, and even though it isn’t dinner time I’d love a snack” is something many of the children we work with can’t convey. Recognizing the importance of communication and providing our children with the tools and ability to communicate needs, emotions, or feelings is critical to a happy and productive experience. We all communicate differently and this experience changed my life and made me reevaluate the blessing that it is to simply be able to communicate, to have a voice and be heard.
Jennifer Reynolds is a Childcare Specialist at Jill’s House, a respite center for children with intellectual disabilities in Vienna, Virgina. She is a graduate of Auburn University (Auburn, AL) with a major in Rehabilitation Services.