Sunday, 1 September 2013


I worked a shift in a moderate/severe Autistic Children's Home yesterday. I haven't done anything like this before and my experience with autism is in mainstream school as a teaching assistant. As I am doing agency work I was asked if I wouldn't mind doing a shift.

I was a little apprehensive at first, thinking I wasn't qualified as a care worker. I was also feeling another emotion, fear!


Yes I was feeling fear. I searched my feelings further and realized that from a young age I have always shied away from people who are 'different.' I feel ashamed to say this but one of my earliest memories is being at the zoo aged about 9 or 10 and a group of Down's Syndrome children were standing nearby. I was so afraid I ran to my Mum.

I went to the Home the day before to see the route that I had to take. The grounds were beautiful, on acres of farmland with sheep, wild rabbits with homes scattered among trees. Out of a window in one of the homes sat a boy of 19 years old screaming and rocking. The scenic view melted into the background and all I could see and hear was this poor young man making unintelligible noises. Were they of joy or pain?

The next day I drove down the winding, country lanes thinking maybe I could just not turn up. I felt ashamed at my fear. I really didn't want to go, but I didn't want to let the agency down or the Home that were expecting me.

As I entered the grounds, again I was overwhelmed by the beauty of nature all around me. I was directed to the home I was to help in. I was greeted by four care workers and a boy of 10 or 11. He was smiling and like any child was curious at who was visiting.

The Home was spacious, clean and had been recently refurbished so was a little sparse on decor but was welcoming enough. The care manager showed me around telling me that on entering and leaving each room I had to make sure the door was locked.

I was taken to the children's bedrooms and outside of the bedrooms was the child's photo. The manager told me their names, their age and their condition along with their behaviors. He was speaking so matter-of-factly about how one bites, one will hit with his open hand and the other will play with his excrement. I was then told to be alert and if the care workers tell me to get out the way quickly they may have to shout.

I thought I'm sure I can make some excuse to leave, looking around me only seeing the boy that I was told only yesterday pulled the microwave out of the socket and threw it across the room.

'I'm sure I am not cut out for this' , I thought, ' I am a teaching assistant who has had to deal with one or two children with ADHD and mild Aspergers and Autism and some children with 'naughty' behavior.'

I was told my role today would be to assist another care worker with a child and to make sure the laundry and dishes etc were taken care off so that the care workers could concentrate on the kids. I let out a sigh of relief, I could escape behind a locked door and do housework.

But I want to help children!!! My heart whined.

I then heard one of the other boys, he was about 13, he ran in flapping and screeching. I moved away, smiled and went to the laundry room, went to lock the door behind me and felt a push, I pushed back and locked the door.

How could I help these children if all I wanted to do was run away from them?

I looked at the clock on the wall. I had only been there for an hour and had 6 more left. How on Earth was I going to last without running away.

The care manager then suggested we take two of the boys to the grounds park for an hour before dinner. The care workers were a lovely young man of 21 and the girl was just 22. They were so natural with the children I just followed their lead. One of the boys just stood in one spot and flapped but stopped flapping when the girl told him to. He would sit on the swing for a minute then run off and flap again. Whilst the other boy who has a tendency to nip, was happily playing on the swing with the young man. I just stood in between them awkwardly.

When the workers were sitting just watching the kids I did what I do best; ask questions about themselves and how they entered into this profession. I gave them praise for their patience and tolerance and care at such young ages.

The evening went quite smoothly other than the male care worker been slapped in the face and the basket ball post been pulled down by another boy, who then had to be carried away to his room kicking and screaming and lashing out biting. But I had left unscathed!!

I finished off my laundry and cleaning and left at 9 pm.

I drove down the dark roads feeling quite shell shocked and all I could think about was how I didn't even try to connect with the kids. How distant and unapproachable I felt, even though the youngest  came to me and put his hands on my lap and I then patted him on his back.

I realized that I was afraid of the behaviors not of the children. I could see how vulnerable and how much they needed love and to communicate but couldn't in normal ways as they were non-verbal.

I felt awful!!!!!

I feel so much respect for people who do this job and really love it and the children they care for. They really are a special type of people. It takes more than just caring and feeling sorry for the children.

I learnt a lot about myself that evening and what it takes to really care for children with special need.

I learnt about my limitations and also about my capabilities.

I learnt that not everyone can do everything and that some people are better at some things more than others.

I learnt that following your heart with the help of your mind, is more helpful to others than letting your heart lead blindly!

I learnt that there is still more to learn...and that's O K!

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