From January to July I have had the pleasure of interning, followed by working in the Bridges Program at The Therapy Place in South Carolina. To sum it up quickly, Bridges is a preschool structured program designed to fit the needs of kids with a wide range of special needs diagnoses. With the help of occupational, physical, and speech therapists we are able to integrate the goals they have set for a child into a daily routine. If you have talked to me since I have started here, I have most likely told stories, or shown pictures and videos of all the kids there, that without a doubt, have changed my life forever.
Although I love all of these children with my whole heart, and could go on forever describing the impact they have had on my life, I want to share the story of my friendship with one child in particular.
This is Brandon.
Brandon is diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome. Due to his condition, Brandon could experience 100, if not more, seizures a year. Many people are frightened by the thought of one seizure in a lifetime, and at 4 years old this kid has already been through more than any one of us could ever imagine.
When I first started with Bridges, I had told the two directors my interest in working as a behavior analyst. They glanced at each other, and smiled saying “we have the perfect kid for you.” And boy were they right.
After I started with Bridges, Brandon and I quickly became close friends. When things became too stimulating or sitting still wasn’t on his list of things to do, we went to the front gym to play basketball, stayed in the classroom to do puzzles, and blow bubbles, or play with a tractor and farm animals in the sensory room. As the days went on, it quickly became evident, that I would hang out with Brandon more and more. Not only was I starting to feel attached to Brandon, wanting to spend the day working with him to eliminate some of his behaviors that could be seen as disruptive, but it seemed as if he had gained a sense of trust in me as well. We ate snack together, made it through circle time together, and dug too many holes to count in the sand outside together.
As good as it all seems, I’d be lying if I said everyday was rainbows and butterflies for Brandon and I. Some days Brandon wouldn’t want to eat his snack, and instead would want his jell-o on the floor or all over me. Some days sitting through circle wasn’t an option, and instead he wanted to see how close he could get to running out of the classroom. Some days the activities Brandon loved were replaced by sitting out and having him listen about how he could make a different choice tomorrow.
On days like these, it is easy to give up. It is easy to say “oh well I guess we will try again tomorrow.” It is easy to pass Brandon over to someone else to have them sit with him for a while. It is easy to just look past everything. But easy isn’t always right. By the end of my time with Bridges, I had built a trust with Brandon. It seemed he knew when I was having a rough day, and would compliment me with acting perfectly. But then again, he knew when I was on my toes and exactly how to push my buttons. But, in the end, all that mattered was our friendship. I knew, and Brandon knew, that we could come back and figure out what was going on. We figured out a way to maximize his success, getting what he wanted, while learning, and having fun at the same time.
For sure we had our tough times, but more importantly I got to witness Brandon make remarkable strides. Over these past 7 months Brandon became so willing to not only engage with adults but other children as well. He learned to take turns with his friends. He learned that in order to get his reward he needed to put in work. He became much more vocal, expressing his emotions and feelings verbally. And I have never been more proud.
On my last day, Brandon’s mom told me how I have impacted Brandon’s life. This feeling is one I do not know if I will ever be able to top or one I will ever be put into words. I never started working with Brandon to be applauded, or have someone tell me how good I am doing. I worked with Brandon because I saw his need. I saw his need for a friend. I saw his need for someone to trust. I saw his need for someone to push him to try harder every single day.
With the career choice I have chosen, many people tell me that I am going to get burnt out and I ought to make sure I have a back up plan. But I don’t see that happening, not any time soon. All it takes is seeing that smile, being a part of one accomplishment, or hearing a parent say “you have helped my child.” Moments like these stick with you. They make the bad days good, and the good days better. I could not be more excited to continue in this field, and a lot of this passion I owe to Bridges, and to Brandon.
So Brandon, I have to thank you. Thank you for reminding me the importance of friendship and trust in helping people grow. Thank you for always making me laugh with your big ‘ole smile. Thank you for teaching me to “waiiiiiiiit”. Thank you for pushing me down the slide, even if I wasn’t quite ready to go. Thank you for teaching me that puzzles are more fun when you start out by putting the pieces in the wrong place and saying “NO” before putting them where they belong. Thank you for teaching me to advocate for those who may not be able to advocate for themselves. Thank you for reminding me why I chose the career path that I chose. Thank you for being you.