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Human interaction

Before taking a job in a group home for developmentally disabled children, it was hard to remember a time when I was happy on a consistent basis. It was during my first years in college and I was more than two hundred miles from my family and friends that I was able to form bonds with despite my incredible ineptitude to make friends and feel comfortable with new people. So it was surprising when I applied for and received a job working in a group home for developmentally disabled children under the age of 16.

A great deal of caring and human interaction with the children was an important job requirement. I had not known any children in the past five years and my sister was similar to me in age and there really wasn’t any other ways in which I had even sporadic contact with anybody under the age of 18. But I needed a job and thought that this job could propel me out mf my shell that was serving as an impediment in many aspects of my life. I distinctly remember the very first day on the job. It was right after the residents had dinner and we were all sitting in the living room.

I was sitting on the corner of the couch by myself and was horribly uncomfortable and filled with self doubt as to whether or not I could even contribute in any degree to the health and well being of these children. But I was not sitting on the couch for more than ten minutes when a little nine year old boy named Johnny came over by me and put his arm around me. He didn’t need to say anything at that time but I do wish that I could have told him how very important that simple act of his was to me.

Not only did it break the ice, but I quickly formed an unbreakable bond with those children and the person who found it very difficult to speak and express my feelings, became one of the most outgoing and funny individuals that my coworkers had ever seen. The irony of this simple gesture, I found out later, was the fact that for whatever emotional failings that I possessed, Johnny had a much tougher time in expressing his feelings and feeling comfortable around strangers that I did.

What has always been puzzling to me is the way that a large majority of the residents’ parents seem to cast them off because they have mental and/or physical disabilities. It is very sad, but what hurts more is the unshakable belief that the children have concerning their parents’ love for them, even when there is a complete absence of proof. Johnny was one of these children. During my tenure at the job, he would end up in a wheelchair due to a disease of the muscle tissue that atrophied at an alarming rate and left him unable to walk.

He was unable to swallow whole foods and would be on a liquid diet for the rest of his life… He had suffered brain damage because his mother, while pregnant with Johnny, was an alcoholic and a drug addict. But because of the night when he made me feel comfortable during that first day on the job, he quickly became my favorite and all of the extra effort that he required, was my way of saying thank you to him. I felt a loyalty to that simple act and every extra effort exerted on Johnny’s behalf was a labor of love.

And as a result, Johnny’s behaviors seemed to subside. Before I began my employment at the agency, Johnny had been violent towards staff and his fellow housemates on an almost daily basis. He would elope at night and more than once a search party had to be organized in the middle of the night in order to retrieve Johnny and prevent any harm coming to him. He also suffered from severe episodes of self abuse which was partly due to the fact that he refused to take his medication on daily basis. There was talk of transferring Johnny to a state facility.

There was reluctance to do this but there seemed to be no other way since he was more than the staff could handle. This all seemed to change once I began my employment. Johnny and I were inseparable and I would come to the job on my days off to take him out to eat and be as a big brother to him. And when Johnny was having violent behaviors or he refused to take his medication which was vital for his mental and physical health, my co workers would call and ask if I could come to work in order to calm him down because I was the only one that he would listen to.

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