When I enrolled in Psychology 490: Autism Theory and Interventions, I did not care about children who had autism. The word autism was very unfamiliar, it wasn't my problem. I cared about enrolling in 16 units to make sure my tuition money was being used efficiently.
I got to class the first day to learn that I would be working with a kid; an actual alive child who has been diagnosed with autism. I was worried about other classes not being open, so I stayed in the class. "What kind of class is this?," I thought. It all seemed a little odd; however I had my 16 units for the semester. Fine, I will spend four hours a week with the little booger if that means I will graduate on time.
When I got the application of the child I would be working with, it was in all Spanish. I do not speak Spanish. I was annoyed and confused about how I would be able to communicate at all with this family. I thought I would never get my 40 hours I needed to pass the service-learning class.
When I arrived at my child's home, I was surprised to see such a tiny apartment. The entire kitchen and living area was as big as my dining room. I was sure to make sure the father knew I would be spending 40 hours with his daughter. I met my child, and she didn't even look at me. I was totally annoyed, it was ridiculous! During our first meeting she had her back turned to me the entire time, and I told her funny stories, but she did not laugh. When she did look at me, she had a scowl. This four year old girl looked so unhappy. Her parents explained to me that she didn't play with many people, and she would never sit down for more than a couple minutes.
I had an idea to bring my BRATZ dolls to my next visit. I opened my pink BRATZ carrying case, and she was mesmerized by the dolls. She felt each clothing item, and ran her fingers through their hair. We would play on her terms, sometimes rolling the BRATZ car back and forth, back and forth, for hours. I realized that I had some work to do if I ever wanted to communicate with her. With time, she learned each BRATZ doll's name. With more time, she would say "hi" to each of the dolls. With more time, she said "hi" to me. With more time, she stopped calling me "Stacy", a random name she had come up with for me. We would sit and play BRATZ for four hours every Saturday night. "Sit", is the key word, something she wasn't able to do for very long before she had met me and the BRATZ dolls. She had meltdowns, but I would remind her that everything was okay; something she may have never heard before when she was upset. I started to receive hugs when I walked into her small apartment, and her mother started to thank me more often. "Gracias Brikell" she would say. One day while playing BRATZ, the young autistic girl was "stimming". She makes a "bubububu" noise with her mouth. In between the "bubu", she let out a soft,
"I love you".
"I love you, too!!" I said with tears in my eyes. I hugged her, and I thought about how I wanted to protect her from the cold world; a world that does not understand people like her.
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I believe that my presence in her life during her current developmental stage has been crucial for her and her future. Her language, English, focus, and social skills have dramatically changed. She has other helpers; and they mostly speak Spanish, and do not use the many different therapies that I have learned in the class. Her other favorite helper had to leave, back to Mexico. She explained to me how much she would miss the young girl who has autism. She explained to me how much of a difference I had made in the little girl's happiness. As she left, she looked at me and said,
"You cannot leave. She needs you; (her name) needs you."
I didn't have any words for her. "I can't stay in her life forever," I thought. I want to move away someday, but for now, I can be there for her. I feel as if it is a responsibility to care for others, especially when one has the power to.
What this program has done for me cannot be put into words. If I did not enroll in this class, I would never have known that this is what I want to do as my career. I wouldn't even have my current job. I wouldn't be as happy as I am now without this program, and neither would the little four year girl. These children need us, and we need them.