Credit: Katharine Smith
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// At Method, Raleigh

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 everyday 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.

"You don't have to say everything to say something." -Beth Moore

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