There is always more than meets the eye when spotlighting different realms. I wanted this paper to meet more than just the standards set by my professor. I wanted to be able to lean towards or away from a career choice. Being able to step outside of my own world into one where I would truly try to understand people with disabilities in their lives was what I had chosen. Spending a day in the Mary Cariola Children’s Center allowed me to do this by interacting with children at various different levels and learning disabilities.
I have quite a bit of knowledge on children with special needs but have never truly been able to interact with them further than my cousin who has been confined to a wheelchair (for reasons unknown to any doctor). When a child has a disability it becomes their master status. A master status is one that cuts across each other statuses you hold. Throughout this day I was able to speak and interact directly with three main children. One of my teachers from high school had a son with autism who I knew was in the Mary Cariola Center. Due to this I was able to set up a day long volunteer/observation experiment.
I was explained a breakdown of their day and how these children were here because their families could no longer provide the help necessary to take care of them. I could not imagine being so excited to have a child only to learn you cannot provide for them what they need to live a fulfilling life. I can only imagine what this could possibly feel like being a parent and having to do this. Upon arriving I was taken on a tour of the facility where I was able to see many children in their own familiarity. In the beginning I was told to stay “behind the scenes” let the children slowly discover I was there for themselves.
This was so I could first simply observe before interacting and allow the children discover me. For a while none of the students noticed I was there but slowly there were a couple whispers and children wondering who I was. Eventually some children were coming up to me and some still remained doing their own thing. I was able to directly interact with small groups of children by playing games with them. The first was Sarah a nine year old child who has been with Mary Ciarola since she was 3 years old, when she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
Cerebral refers to the brain and palsy means the weakness or lack of control in one’s muscles. Luckily Sarah’s case was not extremely severe. This was the first child I was able to come in contact with, she seemed so happy and I couldn’t figure out if it was on the basis of “ignorance is bliss” or if it was her ability to accept and live as any other human being would. It seemed she was well aware of her situation but there were only one to two times I ever witnessed her asking for any sort of help.
She strived for independence as much as she could to the point where other employees would have to step in because of her lack of asking for help. Although Sarah was well past the age of needing any sort of diapers, her cerebral palsy had created bladder control problems. It was horrible to see how much one disease affects so much of what you do day to day. The second child I was able to meet was Matthew. During his developmental period at the age of two, Matthew’s parents began to notice his problems with communication and interactions with other children.
Off the bat I was able to notice Matthew did not want the same amount of affection as the other children seemed to starve for. I later learned this was simply another symptom caused by autism. It was hard to truly hold a conversation with Matt because he would constantly tune out as if he went into “his own world. ” To me I believe the art of conversation is one of the most important things this life has to offer, so this was in fact enormously frustrating. My personal opinion is that expressing yourself is extremely significant and important throughout life.
We must all try to understand each other and each individual situation without bias. Matthew as any other child has much to say but his ability to process these thoughts and release them are not the same as other children. There are different levels of mental retardation varying in severity. Rebecca was considered to luckily have a mild case of mental retardation. She was 14 years old and quite honestly a joy to be around. Surprisingly her social skills as she spoke to me seemed to be right on track, one would not even be aware of her mental retardation unless they truly put her to the test.
When it actually was time to do an activity that needed step by step concentration, Sarah was given what any 14 year old would consider simple, and struggled excessively. She acted out in what I later learned what embarrassment in front of someone she didn’t know (me) because she could not solve the task given to her. Occasionally, there were times where I believe she felt she did not have to follow some social rules inside of the classroom setting; examples being sitting, being quiet and staying still.
Towards the end I decided I wanted to speak to one of the employees about the difficulties of their job. Andrea was the first women I spoke to, she’s worked in this center for 4 years. After speaking with Andrea for a while I came to learn that even such a strong person as herself found herself almost giving up at times. She explained to me that it was hardest to deal with the children with the emotional problems because no matter what you do for them, they still have this inner belief that you’re not there to help them.
(With these children it is hard for them to love or connect emotionally to other human beings, which is the reason they are usually taunted due to the lack of social skills due to this genetic problem) This experience did more than just make me aware of how real disabilities are with the youth but it also gave me a greater insight on the strength it takes to be a teacher in this type of classroom setting. It truly does take a special person to fill such big shoes that the employees here hold.
The reward at the end of the day must outweigh the struggle that the day brings or no one would ever work in this field. I believe patience is the number one personality trait one must hold to work in this field. I cannot say that this made the clear yes or no decision to my optimism of choosing to work with children with special needs, but it defiantly provided me with an experience of an average day within the life of the teachers, teacher assistants and aid’s that worked there. This center provides a direct opportunity to make a difference in a child’s life.
I believe each person who works there is truly a special person who is completely selfless. It was not until I was able to view these children in the settings they have become comfortable with to even begin to understand the difficulties of everyday life. The overall theme I couldn’t stop recreating in my head was unfairness. I just didn’t understand why some children had to be born with these disabilities. Each and every child here had their own story of how they came to be the way they are, whether developed over time or born with disabilities.
There was one thing I did see in each of the children, the deep desire to be loved and accepted. I could tell some children haven’t even come to accept their disability themselves and knew that this would make it nearly impossible for others to be able to until they did. These children did not ask for the disabilities they were given and all we can do as the blessed people without any disabilities is accept these children, these human beings and help them live the most fulfilled lives they can.
It wasn’t until I was about done rounding up my observations and ideas from this day that I came across a new outlook. People always think how much some people help these children and people in general with disabilities but I imagine we must also look at what these people have to offer us. Every day we partake in the simplest of activities such as picking something we have dropped up off the ground or asking someone to do us favor explaining exactly what we need done and how it needs to be done.
We can carry lengthy conversations about our day or our opinions on a certain topic. We can go to the bathroom without anyone’s assistance; we can read and write clearly. Imagine being unable to complete any of these tasks. When we walk past someone on the street or in the hallways of school we do exactly that, just walk by. It is not that we must feel bad for those people for they do not want pity on what God has given to them, but I believe we must look onto them with extreme strength.
How many of us can say we would truly be able to live their life if it was just randomly handed to us? Without a doubt this experience has made me extremely thankful for everything I can do independently. The days following this experience I found myself stopping as I went to pick something up I dropped or read an article with ease within a couple minutes thinking how these children and how these things just aren’t that easy to them. These children have no idea how much they taught me simply from their presence and their strength to carry on.
So the next time I come across someone with any sort of disability I will no longer look at them with pity or confusion, but only eyes of strength and understanding how many of them have come to accept what God has given them. My knowledge has now spread to actual hands-on experience which I believe can teach one more than any book ever could. As one can observe this project was able to show me a lot and create many different outlooks on children with disabilities.
I strongly suggest everyone to step outside of their realm into a new unfamiliar one. It is not until you become the minority in a situation can you truly even begin to understand. Just because your master status may not be the same as everyone else’s does not mean you can’t use it to show people how under it all you’re just the same as everyone else. This experience will stay with me for the rest of my life and will also be part of my decision to work with children with special needs.