I have worked in the mental health field for a decade. My favorite part of that work was the last half of it, working with kids from ages 3-21 with developmental disabilities and delays. I had absolutely zero experience with this population before then but I left with a lot of experience and a totally different person and mother.
Working with Developmental Disabilities
I was admittedly afraid of the kids at first because I knew that they could hurt me, and they did. I have a scar on my right eyebrow to show for it. A kid hit me in the face with a stereo cord because her CD skipped in the CD player. Before I left this facility, I would get injured in a lot of other ways. I was able, however, to help some of these kids be toilet trained, learn sign language, bond with others, and have fun.
I learned that kids with disabilities are just like other kids, which I already knew. They need love. When they don’t get it, they will act in ways that scream for that attention even though they can’t say, “Hey, LOOK AT ME! I NEED YOU!” or something like it. They can and will throw things. They will urinate on themselves and sometimes on you. Over a long period of time, their caregivers (or parents) will give up on them and bring them to facilities like the one I worked for.
What I Have Learned
These kids also need people to not give up on them after they don’t get something the first time. Their brains do work. I promise you they do. They just work a little differently. They may or may not be able to speak, but they can communicate. One of my favorite kids squeezed my arms every day to say “hello”, “goodbye” and when she was happy. Even though most kids with severe autism don’t even think of hugging you, she hugged me when she was being released. I cried along with her behavior analyst.
Most of all, they do hear. They hear very well. They can hear every word you say, and they can read your feelings when you are around them. If you don’t want to be around them, they can tell. If you love being around them, they can feel that too. I had so much fun working with these kids. It was not always pretty- I left work many days extremely tired, bruised and wondering why I ever signed up for this job, but I went back the next day ready for another round.
The best part was watching a kid finally “getting” something that a teacher, behavior analyst or one of us workers had been trying to teach them. It was incredibly rewarding, and hard to describe. It was also a lot of fun to do one-on-one work with them.
Developmental Disabilities On A More Personal Level
Each child has their own personality, and I am a mother of three. My younger son has severe ADHD and is also on the autism spectrum. He was diagnosed while I was working at this facility. As a result of his ADHD, he sees the world a lot differently than I ever will, and some days I wonder what the world is really like for him. He has some sensory issues and is a quiet child. We love him just the way he is. He just chooses to see the world from another angle, just as the kids I worked with and many others do.
When you see a child with a developmental disability out in public, don’t automatically assume that they are to be pitied. You may be amazed at what they can do.
Meet the Author
This Guest Post was written by Wrae Sanders of Brave Wings Coaching. Wrae is a life coach in Louisville, Kentucky and a mom of three with a BA in Clinical Psychology. When She is not working, she can be found reading or listen to podcasts. I hope you enjoy what she has to say about her experience with developmental disabilities.