The World of Autism and Me

I think that the first time I was really introduced to autism was when I was working at Camp Kostopolus, a summer camp for people with disabilities.  I already shared how autism was explained to me in another post, but it was at a training we had when I was working at Camp K.

By this point in my life I had already been working in a group home for women with developmental disabilities, syndromes, or mental illness, but I had never worked with anyone with autism.  After working at this summer camp, I started working as a case worker at a Care Center for people with disabilities.

At that time I had a caseload of 20 residents that I worked with.  I remember sitting at a conference when I had only worked there for a couple weeks, and I started asking one of my co-workers that had worked there for years about my caseload.  We started making a list of everybody's interests.  I had a pretty good list by the end of the day, but there was just one boy on my list that she couldn't think of anything he liked.  She told me that she really didn't know what he liked, and she wasn't really sure that anyone did know.

At that moment, I made it my mission to find out what this boy liked.  It wasn't as easy I thought it would be.  By observation I learned that he liked to rock and he liked to chew on his shirt, and that was about it.  I ended up spending a lot of time with this boy, and eventually he became "my boy."  I know that when you're working you're not supposed to have your favorites, but even when the other residents would talk to me they would refer to him as "your boy."  They would always come and tattle on him and say things like "YOUR boy" did this or that.  It always made me laugh.

He was my boy.  We made a connection.  And that made all the difference in the world.

A couple of favorite moments.  So my boy is non-verbal with severe autism.  One day we were playing ball in the hallway, and every time he missed the ball I would have to tell him to get the ball.  After playing for a while I missed the ball and he chanted "gettheball-gettheball-gettheball", that was an exciting day for me.  I honestly dream of the day when I will get to sit down with him and have a real conversation, but hearing him say just a few words made me so happy.  One of my other favorite moments was when our psychologist came in one day and told me "your boy just swore at me."  That made me chuckle, and I think my only response was "That's my boy!"

When I look back at it all, the connection I made with "my boy" is what motivates me.  I want others to be able to have that connection, I especially want families to have that connection.  It's not always easy, but it can be done.  That's why I've been drawn to the PLAY Project, it's all about connections and relationships.  

I will continue my journey in another post :)  And as I started writing about "my boy", I think I will end up sharing more stories about him.  How about we give him a name.  How about we go with Michael.

Joy Mano
Utah PLAY Project Home Consultant
Early Intervention Treatment for Children With Autism

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