Hello readers! This is my first blog post for the website and I thought I would introduce myself by telling you a story. This story relates the first time I felt drawn to working with people on the autistic spectrum.
When I was an undergraduate in college I volunteered every Saturday afternoon at a small church that allowed the school to use one of it’s community spaces to host a respite service for families in the area where parents could drop off their special needs kids for a few hours. The college students would entertain the kids and make sure they were safe and happy. As a volunteer, I was able to interact with some amazing children and young adults who challenged my perceptions of people with special needs and opened my heart to the sweetness and joy they all expressed in appreciation for the attention and care we volunteers demonstrated towards them.
One day will forever stick out for me. It was the day a little boy named Billy (name changed to respect their privacy) joined our motley crew of kids. The volunteers were informed prior to the kids arriving that Billy was “Autistic” which was unusual since the volunteers were never before informed of a child’s diagnosis. Looking back Autism was considered rare at the time and so Billy was to be treated with extra care. We were instructed not to interact with Billy without being told why. I assume the psychology graduate students in charge were fearful of a meltdown and thought he would not want to be bothered. Anyway, Billy arrived and was introduced to the group and then left alone to his own devices by both the adults and the other kids.
I was curious about Billy and observed him as he wandered the rather large room. He was non-verbal and frequently left his Woody doll on the floor as he explored the space. Toy Story had been a popular movie and all of the other kids wanted to play with Billy’s toy. Billy did not seem to notice when the other kids would pick up his doll, but I did. Every time a kid would put down the doll, forgotten on the floor, I would pick it up and give it back to Billy saying, “Here’s your toy, Billy.” It appeared that Billy did not notice or care because that doll would wind up in another kid’s hands or on the floor dozens of times.
But a curious thing happened late in the day. When I was sitting on the floor with a little girl in deep conversation about one of her favorite things, Billy suddenly appeared and sat in my lap giving me a hug. Everyone in the room stopped what they were doing a stared in shock at what was happening. After the kids left for the day, all of the volunteers and graduate students asked what had happened. All I could say was, “I guess he knew someone was looking out for him.”
It was such an important moment in my life, although I would not realize this until almost 10 years later when I started working as an early intervention therapist and later as a marriage and family therapist. It was the first step to where I am today, and Billy will always have a special place in my heart for showing me that no matter how small an act of kindness may seem, it can mean the world to those receiving that kindness, and it can make unexpected connections with far reaching results.
Nissa Jackman LMFT, ATR