In about two hours I will walk into a new job working with children on the autism spectrum and I cant help but think back to the happenstances that have led to this very moment. I am about to do a job that I said that I “would never do”. “I don’t like kids… I could never work with kids… they bug me…”. Yes, I admit almost sheepishly that those were the very words that came out of my mouth.
In college is where my passion for psychology was realized. Now, with that being said, my most hated classes to take were behavioral modification and child psychology. It always bothered me as I sat there at the young age of 18 learning about phases of development as the older students in the class raised their hands to share stories of their children. I remember feeling highly annoyed and just wanting to get through the material so I could get a longer break between classes so I could have a bit more time to prepare for my abnormal psychology class that followed this one. I knew child psychology was never going to be in my future.
Behavioral modification was a bore. I squeaked by with a B+ and breathed a sigh of relief when it was over. The whole operant conditioning and Skinner and Pavlov was interesting enough but the implementation of techniques didn’t quite catch my fancy. I wanted the schizophrenia, the bipolar, the identity disorders I wanted the obscure. The more disordered the better in my suburban sheltered adolescent mind.
In high school I was often paired with special education kids which I now know was part of a peer to peer program and I loved every moment of that. I always struggled in school due to issues with ADHD and because of my attention limitations my self esteem had virtually collapsed in on its self despite my intelligence. My grades were low and so after so long I just gave up. But one year in science class, i believe it was my sophomore year, my biology teacher took a chance on me and paired me with a boy and said, “sue N___ needs your help this year are you willing to help him? I think you would be of great help to him”. Ecstatic at this request as no one had ever asked me to help anyone else due to my deficits I diligently learned the material and listened harder in class and focused on helping N___”. I remember telling my mom excitedly how I was helping this boy and how amazing he was not even realizing that I was getting all As on my tests. and looking back after all my time in the helping professions and after watching my sons progress i realize that he was actually helping me more than I was helping him.
During my senior year in high school my grades were so terrible I had to be taken out of school and a tutor came to me. Yeah, seriously. and it was about this time that I began reading a seriese by the author Torey Hayden. She wrote books based on the special needs students she worked with and described many different situations and ways she would help these students. I found them riviting. Yet still told myself I would never work with kids. It was just too tame.
Fast forward to 2010 and my eighteen month old son is diagnosed with a severe form of autism and i was thrown into a world of PECS cars, picture schedules, therapists, sign language and early intervention programs. I was surrounded by developmental milestone charts (that i would eventually burn in a neighbors bonfire) and wooden building blocks. I was lost and wished I had paid more attention in child development class. Wished I had listened more to the moms as they spoke of their children instead of just doodling small poems in my notebook about my then boyfriend to get through class.
I was lost. I didn’t know any educational songs. I didn’t know how to do anything. I stood there staring at his early on psychologist wishing she would never leave because her being there made me feel so secure. But as with anything I adapted. I learned. I grew and I dove in head first.
In 9 short years, I have learned all I can about autism and those with children just diagnosed often come to me for guidance. I have published in autism parenting magazine and in a few short hours I will be starting my first day working with children on the spectrum.
It’s funny sometimes where life takes us as we make other plans in our head. I walked away from my inpatient job and am going to do the very job that I said I would never do and I couldn’t feel more excited or blessed. Looking back its crazy to see just how far back the road to this very moment extends. I cant wait to make a difference and hopefully be that therapist for that child and their families that I needed when I was just starting out. Lord knows I had some of the best examples at the start of my journey. Most of which I still keep in contact with.
This is a great example of not letting life hold you down. Sometimes, when you feel stuck all it takes is one step out of your comfort zone, one look around, a deep breath and “20 seconds of courage” (thanks mom) to make your life meaningful again.
Cheers to all of you. and “just keep swimming” right Jenny? 🙂