Four years of college, 6 months of work with no pay, and one horrendous test later, I became an Occupational Therapist with little to no experience. My first job and only full-time job has been in long-term care (AKA nursing home, retirement home, old folk’s home, skilled nursing facility or Shady Pines just to name a few). I had not been working in LTC less than six months when a friend of mine suggested, nicely of course, that a woman of my age may enjoy working with children better than emancipated, wrinkly, old people.
At first, I was just a little taken a back. Then after some further contemplation, I had most definitely been rubbed the wrong way. I enjoyed working with the elderly and I had a million reasons why to prove it. For starters, they have a lifetime of stories to share; lessons learned the hard way, regrets they hope to amend, and choices they were glad they made. They offer advice and criticism freely. They do not care, one single iota, to tell you EXACTLY what they think. “I don’t like your hair color. You’re too skinny! You’re too fat! You look pale! You need more sun! Do you think what you’re wearing really matches?”. They also have their chiseled in stone, never going to change for no one and don’t even try ways. “No, I am not getting rid of my throw rugs! So, what if I trip over them and break my neck, They are not leaving this house! No, I am not installing bars in my bathtub! Who needs bars in a bathtub, now don’t ask me again. No, I am not waiting on someone to take me to pee. So, what if I only have one good leg and have to crawl on the floor to get there, I am not waiting on anyone to take me to pee!”. Yep, that’s only a few of the many reasons why I dearly love working in long-term care. Now, here is why I have refused to work with children.
Don’t get me wrong, I love children! I have two myself, but let me tell you about the moment I knew I never wanted to work with the little creatures. I was completing some mandatory observation hours in the school system when for the first time in my small existence, I saw children that had Autism. Before you mind begins to go haywire and think all sorts of bad thoughts let me finish. The first little boy I saw with the diagnosis looked like any other child. He had a blonde crop cut, bright blue eyes, and a mouth on fire. The words that flew from his mouth would have made the devil himself blush. Seriously! I LOVED this little boy. I loved his energy. Then the therapist I was with began to tell me about this little boy’s struggles. He had a multitude of sensory issues. He rocked, he spinned, and he hummed. He was incredibly loud, but very far away socially. He did not make eye contact nor did he acknowledge the presence of anyone else. He was there, but he wasn’t. I loved him regardless.
The therapist went on about interventions they had tried; sensory diets, vests, communication boards, behavior modification, medication, lah, lah, lah, lah! All of these treatments and little gains. The more I saw this little boy, and children like him, the more my frustration rose. It seemed like the medical community as a whole was as lost as an Easter Egg on how to treat these precious little individuals. We still don’t know what causes it. It takes a year or longer to get a true diagnosis, and then we have to choose from a very varied smorgess board of treatment options only hoping that something will work at some point. We will not even get into the whole vaccine debate or the so-called cures for Autism.
If I thought Autism was frustrating as a trained clinician I can not even begin to fathom the magnitude of frustration the parents of these children deal with daily. The costs of extensive therapy, the sleepless days and nights, the endless criticism, not knowing what to do, not knowing where to turn, and feeling as lost as the child they pray to save.
I often wonder how would I deal with a child that has an Autism Spectrum Disorder. We know I copped out as a therapist (but I did follow my passion as well). I chose to treat individuals that had physical disabilities, for the most part, because usually you can see progress immediately. You have structured protocols to follow that are pretty much tailored to everyone, and they work for almost everyone that has the same disability. Pretty simple, right? I just hope that if any of my children are ever afflicted with a disability or illness of any kind that I will choose to fight with both fists raised high, full throttle, no holds bars, here I come ready or not, kind of fighting. I hope and pray that I would be just like this AMAZING, Woman and Mother!