What makes me feel good? Helping people. But especially helping people who can do nothing for me in return…. I work in a summer camp that my twin brother helped start years ago. It started with four children who had autism and is now for ages 3-22, includes all disabilities, and has by now a couple hundred campers. Every child deserved the incredible experience of a fun summer and being special should not make any difference.
Getting to work with a 3-5-year-old who sees the world in a different way than me is one of the most rewarding experiences. One day I had a camper named Aubrey, and the poor girl was petrified of water. On the days we would go to the pool it was a nightmare to whichever person had her; she would have one meltdown after another. Also, let me add in here that Aubrey is nonverbal meaning she does not speak to tell you that she does not want to go to the pool; she screams, kicks, bites, runs, hits herself and or others, may throw a toy on the ground etc. Even the task of getting a toddler dressed is amplified when they have autism and are in the middle of a meltdown. It definitely was a struggle for me to get her dressed and to just get out the door to walk to the pool but there was a good three minutes where she stopped fighting and actually enjoyed me carrying her.
Once she realized where we were it was back to square one. After I got her to stay in one area, we worked on looking at the sprinklers at the edge of the children’s pool. Little by little each day we progressed farther and my supervisors were in shock…it was like I was the only one able to get through to her. Although she was scared, I was able to get Aubrey to trust me and with this I was able to achieve a breakthrough. Throughout the week, Aubrey and I practiced getting comfortable with the water; this included the texture, how it felt upon her skin, filling and dumping cups of it etc. After a while she realized that it would not hurt her and that it was not that bad. She thoroughly enjoyed watching me splash the water and joined in with me all on her own. This was the first time I saw her smile.
Now it was time to take a huge step forward: standing in the water. I tried to see whether she felt more comfortable with me carrying her as I walked in and then set her down or if I held her hand and we both stepped in at the same time. The first way worked better and we did this multiple times; I carried her in, set her down and when she shrieked picked her right back up again. I now understood why my first idea worked better; it was because she wanted to be close to me. Before she would freak out if anyone besides her mother tried to touch her, now the only way she was comfortable was with me holding her. Aubrey was using me as a comfort zone while we were working through her fear.
The next day which was the last day of camp Aubrey was ready for the pool. We repeated the steps just like before and by this time she was calmer and adjusted with the routine. When she was standing in the water next to me something happened that I will never forget; she took a couple steps forward and was now a little bit above waist deep in the pool. She looked at me and started yelling “yay”; in that moment I started to cry. Aubrey, a little girl who could barely get through bath time and or being given a shower was now full on joyful about being in the pool.
I started clapping for Aubrey and soon enough everyone joined in and then she started clapping for herself. I could not put into words how good I felt in that moment. Her mother hugged me when she came to pick Aubrey up and thanked me over and over. Giving of yourself to others is what life is all about. Getting to see Aubrey gain confidence and independence was such a rewarding experience. Nothing makes me feel as good as helping others does.