I didn’t plan to get a job taking care of children with autism and Down Syndrome, but I learned a lot by working at a group home after graduating from college. I graduated from school with an English major during the recession of the early 1990s, when few people could get hired on as full-time reporters at newspapers. A friend who was a psychology major told me about a job working at a group home taking care of children with Down Syndrome and autism. Since I was pregnant, I was hesitant at first because I heard about a few of the clients who could be physically combative. Sometimes clients would pull hair or kick out of frustration when trying to talk. When my supervisors learned I was pregnant, they transferred me to a group home with clients considered to be gentle and “higher functioning.”
Greeting each day with a smile
One of the things I learned from taking care of children with Down Syndrome is that I have a lot to be grateful for in my life. Even though the children were separated from family on a day-to-day basis, they kept positive attitudes. It’s not as though the children never argued or had their differences. However, the children with Down Syndrome could always see the bright side of everything. They always put me in a good mood and made me thankful for my blessings in life.
Following the program plan
It was helpful to have trained psychologists visit the group home on a regular basis to go over the program plans for each clients. We used a lot of charts and pictures to remind the children of the different rewards for completing chores or various tasks. The day was supposed to be balanced. We took the children out into the community, made sure they exercises, ate healthy foods and helped out around the house. Even though I was paid to be at the group home, I felt as though the children were a part of my extended family. I learned the value of using positive reinforcement every day.
Fitting into society
Sometimes different children didn’t want to participate in the social activities or outings. I could totally relate to the desire to sometimes just be left alone. I can be an introvert at times. I have the choice as an adult to decide whether I want to be anti-social or hang out in a crowd. I think the children with autism were sometimes bothered by loud noises in public places. Once in a while, the children with Down Syndrome became annoyed with the clients with challenges related to being on the autism spectrum.
The most important lesson I learned is that when it comes to a human being, no one is perfect. Moreover, none of us can really define what perfect or normal means. Children with Down Syndrome seem to have an ability to see beyond the imperfections of this world to a happier place where everyone feels at home and free.