Why Working With Special Populations Doesn't Make Me A Good Person

Why Working With Special Populations Doesn't Make Me A Good Person

What you're missing from the bigger picture.
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"What do you do?" might be one of my least favorite questions. Let me tell you why.

I am currently a registered behavior technician at a wonderful program (MAP) nestled in the heart of North Carolina. Usually, when I tell someone what I do, their response is either an uncertain nod or a plain look of confusion. At that time, I break it down by saying, “Basically, I work with children who have autism."

Now, more times than not, the response I receive is along the lines of, “Wow, that's so amazing of you", or my personal favorite, “Good for you. I could NEVER do that."

I understand that working with special populations isn't for everyone, just like being a neurosurgeon isn't for everyone. But, working with special needs children doesn't make me a good person, a saint, or a hero. Every time someone tells you he/she is a teacher, do you gasp and express how much you could NOT be a teacher?

What about when you meet a pediatrician? These people work with children just like I do. I'm certain if you spent one day in my shoes you would see just how much you COULD do my job.

Maybe not all of the technical work, but after a day with these children, you would be humbled by how much you could learn from them.

After all, these children are just children. They want to be accepted just like every other child.

They want to be understood and to be part of a community just like the rest of us.

My job has given me the opportunity to get to know a handful of the more than 3.5 million Americans on the spectrum. I've gotten to know each of their personalities, their quirks, and what makes them unique. I can't help but imagine a world where everyone gets to know these individuals as I have.

A world where we accept all of those who might appear or act different from us and educate ourselves on these populations. A world where that education helps us see that they aren't so different from us after all.

Working with individuals with special needs doesn't make me a good person, because I do it for selfish reasons.

I work with them because I don't know what my life would be like without them. They have taught me so much and changed my life in so many ways. I get to play a small hand in these children's lives. I get to help them learn fundamental life skills you and I take for granted.

But, I also get to leave work every day having learned a lesson. These children have taught me to be a better version of myself and to appreciate even the smallest of things life has to offer. Each day they challenge me to laugh more, have more fun, and not take myself so seriously. They show me more love than I ever knew possible. Maybe it isn't with their words. Maybe it's with the smiles and giggles when we're singing their favorite song, or the way they look at me when they finally get something they have been working so hard to learn.

The hugs, the kisses, and the moments where our two worlds collide and we finally connect; these are the moments that remind me how much these children have to offer the rest of us. If only we would take the time to let them teach us, we would be more selfless, less judgmental, and have a greater appreciation for life.

April is National Autism Awareness Month.

My hope is that this month we work to spread awareness for Autism, as well as other special needs. We take this time to learn something new, to help educate others, and to stop looking at these individuals as though they need special people in their lives to help teach them and focus more on opening our minds to the things they can teach us.

Explore Odyssey's featured Autism Awareness content here.

Cover Image Credit: Katharine Smith

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College As Told By Junie B. Jones

A tribute to the beloved author Barbara Parks.
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The Junie B. Jones series was a big part of my childhood. They were the first chapter books I ever read. On car trips, my mother would entertain my sister and me by purchasing a new Junie B. Jones book and reading it to us. My favorite part about the books then, and still, are how funny they are. Junie B. takes things very literally, and her (mis)adventures are hilarious. A lot of children's authors tend to write for children and parents in their books to keep the attention of both parties. Barbara Park, the author of the Junie B. Jones series, did just that. This is why many things Junie B. said in Kindergarten could be applied to her experiences in college, as shown here.

When Junie B. introduces herself hundreds of times during orientation week:

“My name is Junie B. Jones. The B stands for Beatrice. Except I don't like Beatrice. I just like B and that's all." (Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, p. 1)

When she goes to her first college career fair:

"Yeah, only guess what? I never even heard of that dumb word careers before. And so I won't know what the heck we're talking about." (Junie B. Jones and her Big Fat Mouth, p. 2)

When she thinks people in class are gossiping about her:

“They whispered to each other for a real long time. Also, they kept looking at me. And they wouldn't even stop." (Junie B., First Grader Boss of Lunch, p. 66)

When someone asks her about the library:

“It's where the books are. And guess what? Books are my very favorite things in the whole world!" (Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, p. 27)

When she doesn't know what she's eating at the caf:

“I peeked inside the bread. I stared and stared for a real long time. 'Cause I didn't actually recognize the meat, that's why. Finally, I ate it anyway. It was tasty...whatever it was." (Junie B., First Grader Boss of Lunch, p. 66)

When she gets bored during class:

“I drew a sausage patty on my arm. Only that wasn't even an assignment." (Junie B. Jones Loves Handsome Warren, p. 18)

When she considers dropping out:

“Maybe someday I will just be the Boss of Cookies instead!" (Junie B., First Grader Boss of Lunch, p. 76)

When her friends invite her to the lake for Labor Day:

“GOOD NEWS! I CAN COME TO THE LAKE WITH YOU, I BELIEVE!" (Junie B. Jones Smells Something Fishy, p. 17)

When her professor never enters grades on time:

“I rolled my eyes way up to the sky." (Junie B., First Grader Boss of Lunch, p. 38)

When her friends won't stop poking her on Facebook:


“Do not poke me one more time, and I mean it." (Junie B. Jones Smells Something Fishy, p. 7)

When she finds out she got a bad test grade:

“Then my eyes got a little bit wet. I wasn't crying, though." (Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, p. 17)

When she isn't allowed to have a pet on campus but really wants one:

“FISH STICK! I NAMED HIM FISH STICK BECAUSE HE'S A FISH STICK, OF COURSE!" (Junie B. Jones Smells Something Fishy, p. 59)

When she has to walk across campus in the dark:

“There's no such thing as monsters. There's no such thing as monsters." (Junie B. Jones Has a Monster Under Her Bed, p. 12)

When her boyfriend breaks her heart:

“I am a bachelorette. A bachelorette is when your boyfriend named Ricardo dumps you at recess. Only I wasn't actually expecting that terrible trouble." (Junie B. Jones Is (almost) a Flower Girl, p. 1)

When she paints her first canvas:


"And painting is the funnest thing I love!" (Junie B. Jones and her Big Fat Mouth, p. 61)

When her sorority takes stacked pictures:

“The biggie kids stand in the back. And the shortie kids stand in the front. I am a shortie kid. Only that is nothing to be ashamed of." (Junie B. Jones Has a Monster Under Her Bed, p. 7)

When she's had enough of the caf's food:

“Want to bake a lemon pie? A lemon pie would be fun, don't you think?" (Junie B. Jones Has a Monster Under Her Bed p. 34)

When she forgets about an exam:

“Speechless is when your mouth can't speech." (Junie B. Jones Loves Handsome Warren, p. 54)

When she finds out she has enough credits to graduate:

“A DIPLOMA! A DIPLOMA! I WILL LOVE A DIPLOMA!" (Junie B. Jones is a Graduation Girl p. 6)

When she gets home from college:

"IT'S ME! IT'S JUNIE B. JONES! I'M HOME FROM MY SCHOOL!" (Junie B. Jones and some Sneaky Peaky Spying p. 20)

Cover Image Credit: OrderOfBooks

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10 Things People With Autism Are Exhausted Of Hearing In 2019

Like, seriously?

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Since Autism Awareness Month is here, I thought I would share some things that people with autism often hear but they are tired of hearing it is time that we all end stereotypes and start raising awareness in order to gain acceptance.

As people on the spectrum, we are tired of being placed in this bubble. We are way more than a disability. We are human and we want to live our lives like everyone else.

1. "You don't look autistic."

I didn't know that we had to have a certain look—that's like telling someone they don't look gay or they don't look like they are from Africa. You are really getting into stereotypes, aren't you? Are we supposed to have green skin, horns, red eyes? No one with autism has a certain look.

2. "You can be normal if you tried."

If I had a dollar for every time I heard that, I would be rich. What is normal anyway? If everyone was normal then the world would be so, so boring. Normal is just a setting on a washer.

3. "You should work harder at fixing your traits (the annoying ones)."

We are all annoying in some way (disabled or not), but telling a person with autism to act "normal" is like telling someone in a wheelchair to just get up and walk. We often mask our symptoms because we don't want people to know that we are dealing with sensory overload. We are working hard to meet you halfway—we put up with the things that annoy us, so do the same, OK?

4. "Must have been vaccinated, huh?"

Seriously, just stop! There is no proof that vaccines cause autism so take a seat.

5. "You must be really good at math."

Please stop comparing us to "Rain Man"—don't forget that it is a movie. Not every one of us is good at math. I'm actually bad at math and better at English.

6. "How can you have autism? You're a girl."

While yes, boys tend to get diagnosed more than females, it doesn't mean that we don't exist.

7. "I'm so sorry."

What is there to be sorry for if we are happy and living our lives? You have nothing to be sorry for.

8. "Don't get offended if I use the R word. Free speech y'all!"

NEVER use that word! I got called that a lot growing up, and I still hate that word to this day. Yes, I am for free speech being a journalism major, but there is a difference between using free speech for your rights and using it to be a jerk.

9. "Does that mean you don't have to work?"

Ummm some of us actually want jobs. We don't want to live off the government, we have our own bills to pay, we actually have passions and dreams that we wish to achieve.

10.  "You must be violent and a danger to others."

That is one of the most dangerous assumptions that you can make about us. Because not only does it increase stigma, but it will also make people think differently of us.

I believe that if people spent more time educating themselves about what autism is instead of making assumptions about us then maybe this would be a less ignorant world. So not just in April but all year round, educate yourselves on what autism is because with awareness comes acceptance.

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