how I was introduced into the world of autism, feel free to check it out, especially if you're confused after reading this post.
In some ways I am a dreamer, and I'm a big believer in turning dreams into reality. One of my big dreams was to be able to go volunteer in an orphanage. In 2007, I realized I could do something about it. So I moved to Ecuador.
I went to Quito, Ecuador with Orphanage Support Services Organization and volunteered for 3 months. I absolutely loved it and would recommend it to anyone who has ever thought about doing it. Just do it!
We had about 5 different orphanages that we volunteered in. Because of my background, I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with the kids with special needs, and I loved it. While I was there I immediately found my "Michael" in Ecuador. (Read my other post to learn about Michael.) We'll call this boy Juan. The first day I met Juan, this is what I observed. He stood far away from the rest of the group, he liked to rock, and he liked to collect garbage. I was told by the other volunteers that he didn't like to be touched, and they usually just let him do his thing because he seemed happy. Of course that wasn't really going to fly with me.
I only had 3 months to make Juan my best friend, and we only got to go visit him a couple times a week. I probably spent more time with Juan than any of the other kids at that home, but I figured the other volunteers interacted with the other kids more so it was fine. It didn't take too long for Juan to warm up. He still liked to be away from the group, but he didn't seem to mind having me be with him in his space. My favorite was when he would reach out and hold my hand for a few seconds at a time kind of like he was giving me the ok to stick around. He initially didn't like to be touched, but later it turned out that he loved having his hands rubbed with lotion. He would even initiate it by finding the lotion in our bags when we would come.
My favorite story about Juan was when one day we came to visit and the house parents told us how Juan doesn't sleep the night before we come because he's too excited. He just stays up all night laughing (he may have had a little emotional regulation issues.) The house parents were not happy about it at all. I, on the other hand, was pretty excited about it. Why? It meant that he was anticipating us coming, and he was forming relationships with us. It made me happy. When the house parents didn't get the right reaction out of us, they probably just figured we didn't understand what they were saying :)
There's just something about that moment when the relationship just clicks and you know that they understand that you love them. And in their own way, they show their love back to you. You often hear that people with autism don't show affection, and sometimes that's true. But when they do, it's about 100 times more powerful. And it's those moments that have kept me in this field, and have guided me further on my journey.
Utah PLAY Project Home Consultant
Early Intervention Treatment for Children With Autism