- Over the summer I worked at a camp with individuals who had special needs. Each individual was a member of the community and through the camp, we worked on skills and fun activities that helped them to open up and work on their personal skills. I learned a great amount from each individual and it helped open my eyes to the importance of the work that I was doing.
- When I began my STEP project, I had a broad understanding of the struggles and difficulties that came with being a parent, sibling, or babysitter of an individual with special needs. I also only understood some of the problems that could occur for an individual with special needs. During my time working over the summer, my views were dramatically shifted. In my classroom, we had 7 kids ages 9-13. We had our kids from 9:30 am – 2:30 pm. During this time, we were responsible for providing them with the proper care and attention for them to flourish. This ranged from feeding them, changing them, and playing with them. I never fully understood the toll that it could take on a person to have this full responsibility every day. I think that the families of these individuals are saints and deserve unlimited amounts of praise. I also start to understand the simple daily challenges that they may go through. Going out to eat, playing at the park, and swimming can all be extremely difficult. My heart was changed by my experience and it made me realize how blind I was to the hardships around me. After my experience, I started to realize how many people around me are impacted by the challenges of taking care of a loved one with special needs. I am now more understanding of what can be going on in the background when people seem like they’re having a bad day or if their actions come off as rude.
- One of my experiences is in regard to the older adults that were apart of our camp. These individuals were between the ages of 20-30. One special program that our director offers is nights out at restaurants. The purpose of these outings is to teach our students how to properly address others when out to eat, how to order for themselves, and how to pay the bill. To someone from the outside, these may all seem like a simple task, but these can be quite difficult for a person with special needs. After attending just a few nights out, you could see the transformation and confidence build within these individuals. This changed my perspective of things that I take for granted.
Another experience that changed my point of view was when we took our kids to the 4H county fair. The day that we attended the fair it was 95 degrees out and there was no cloud coverage. As the day went on everyone was becoming miserable, hot, and thirsty. During this time our kids began to act out. At first many of the counselors were becoming frustrated after having kids who were running off, hitting, crying, and yelling. But this was all put into perspective by one of my fellow counselors. She said, “I know this can seem like a lot right now, but our kids struggle to express how they are truly feeling. If we are patient, we will be able to calm them down and find out what they need.” This opened my eyes because I started to realize that there was a pattern that our kids were following. Typically, when someone is hot or tired, they just express that, but for individuals with special needs that can be extremely hard to get across so instead, they throw a tantrum. This influenced how I approach situations and made me realize that often we need to read between the lines and understand actions before acting.
My final experience that influenced me greatly was during the final week of camp. One of our girls was starting to act out and not listen. She would get easily flustered and throw her glasses across the room. Over the course of the two months of camp she had always been very quiet and very respectful. So, when this started to happen, we all were confused and didn’t know what to do. We tried many different approaches, but something seemed to be going on that we couldn’t figure out. Finally, we talked to her brother and he revealed that because it was the last week of camp, she knew that she wasn’t going to see us every day and she wouldn’t get to see all of her friends, so she was upset. This made me stop and think because I was so quick to jump to conclusions about what was happening. It made me realize how much assuming can hurt the people around you. It changed my perspective and the way that I am going to act towards others in the future.
- My personal goal is to go to law school. In law school, I really want to study criminal law but spend time doing work with people who have disabilities. This summer really opened my eyes to how much these families and individuals have on their plates. So, when it comes to the law, these groups of people often get dismissed or left behind. I learned how important it can be to have someone who can advocate for you because they understand you. This STEP project transformed the way that I will approach others in the future. It also made me realize how important it is for me to be a supporter and activist in their community. I will not take opportunities that I am given for granted and I want to make the most out of my ability to give back to others.