Name (Part 3) the conclusion
Every three months all consumers went through a quarterly review. A multi-disciplinary team reviewed the progress of each consumer across all skill areas; behavior, socialization, communication and were also discussed. On the day before his review, I had a stack of Benny’s behavior sheets to go through. In the old days, I would have attempted to graph the data myself. But I just couldn’t, not this time. So I took the stack of papers that pinpointed the frequencies, dates and times of his self-abuse down to the computer room. There were graduate students who would do the data entry into our computers. They would organize it all by date, time, and type. The computers would graph it all in about an hour. Maybe I’d be able to see a pattern if I had a visual of what it looked like.
Two days before his quarterly I did something that I hadn’t done in years; I stopped in the Catholic Church I had attended as a kid. It had been at least three years since I’d been there. Religion just hadn’t done anything for me in such a long time; I was an educated professional now; I had a Master’s Degree, was a supervisor and had extensive training in my field. The rituals of the mass, confession and the sacraments had lost their value to me. Still, I was feeling lost not knowing what to do about Benny. I had no idea why he was doing the things he did, and I needed help.
I sat there in the front pew looking at Jesus on the cross. I held Benny’s file in my hands, contemplating.
“I don’t know what to do. “ I whispered. “Help me, Jesus. I know it’s been a while and I have no right being here. But..I need help. Show me what to do…please.” In the silence, I felt a peace I had not felt in a long time. I was tired , and sitting there I just let it all go. Somehow I knew He heard me and it was going to be alright.
I spent the better part of the day before his review trying to update Ben’s goals and decide what life skills I could plan out for this giant of a client. He had no special math or music abilities like some other clients with autism. He wasn’t especially good looking, and even his spontaneous social interactions were in question because of his recent unpredictable behaviors; many people were afraid of him. So what could I possibly write that would improve the quality of his life? What could I write that would be of any value? I ended up writing, “Continue Goal” across all his skill areas. I made a recommendation for a ‘Functional Analysis’ of his behavior, where an in-depth look at his behaviors would be done by a clinical team. It wasn’t great but it was realistic. I looked at my watch as I shoved the paperwork into a file. I realized that I was two hours overdue for lunch. I rushed down to the computer room, picked up the sealed envelope with his behavior graph and went to the cafeteria. So there I was sitting at a table, my mouth full of tuna salad when I took the graphs out, and spread them before me. Ever choke on tuna salad? Messy.
The next day it was Lynn who finally broke the long silence at Ben’s review. I had spent about an hour going through his history, his behaviors and all his goals. At Barb’s suggestion I had played the video of him doing his puzzles. Lynn stretched, rubbed her eyes and glanced at the graphs one more time before she spoke. I looked around at the team. I studied their faces trying to impress the moment in my memory. Along with Lynn, Tim, Barbara, Wendy, and myself, there were also a two ‘techies’ from the computer room, and three graduate students representing the departments of psychology, special education, and communication sciences. Lynn let out a slow breath and then,
“Samuels, if this is some kind of sick joke, I swear I’ll…” Lynn shot a look to the techs.
“It’s no joke, Lynn,” Barbara assured her.
“But what does it mean?” Asked the grad from communication sciences.
“I have no clue,” Tim said. “But, it’s amazing.”
“It is saying something,” said Wendy. “Something…awesome.”
“But what function does it have? How can we use this?” I asked.
“Function, meaning? We don’t even know what this is.” Lynn said, as she glanced at the graph again.
“He’s communicating,” said Wendy.
“The best way he can,” added Barbara.
“He’s telling us something very basic here.”
“But…what, Wendy?” I asked.
“Who he is.” She answered.
“But it’s impossible. It can’t be real,” said Lynn, her voice quivered with uncertainty.
I whispered, “Look at the data, Lynn. Look at the graph.” In one movement we all turned our heads and looked again. I continued, “I don’t know what’s impossible anymore. But I do know that this is real,” I said gently touching the graph. “It exists. It’s here, right in front of us.”
“Wendy is right,” Tim agreed. “He is telling us, who he is…through his behavior.”
“His mind, his language, his behavior, all rolled into one.” As soon as I said it, the swirling colors of the beach scene sky flashed through my mind.
“The way he does puzzles,” Barbara said. “Just knowing where all the pieces fit.”
“But, but doing puzzles and manipulating his behavior over dimensions of time, frequencies, graph lines, and to get it all to spell…spell…through connecting lines, that’s a whole different level. Do you realize what kind of mind it would take to do that?” The scene from ‘Rain Man’ flashed again.
“A savant mind,” I said. “He’s a savant, but instead of remembering cards or counting toothpicks, he calculates spaces, behaviors, frequencies and graph lines.”
“Write it up, Samuels. Do a search of all autistic-savants. Go all the way back to the beginning, Kanner in the forties, and see if anything comes up.”
“I’ll check all the communication journals and publications,” said Wendy.
“I’ll research other special populations in the journals,” added Barbara, “But I doubt it.”
“I agree,” said Tim. “Nothing will even come close.”
“Think they’ll make a movie about him?” I asked.
“I don’t know, Samuels, but there is a place for him in the journals. The researches will find it.” Lynn said with certainty.
Barbara shook her head and said, “Why can’t we just appreciate him? He’s Benny just being Benny. He’s just being himself, like all of us. We should just realize that, and appreciate him for who he is. He’s unique.
“For sure,” I said, as I reached for the graph. I picked it up and placed it down again. I could feel all eyes on me as I slowly and gently..oh, so gently traced the graph lines with my finger. The lines that so clearly spelled out his name: B-E-N-N-Y.
I still didn’t know what goals to write. But I did know he had a place. Like a piece in a giant puzzle, he fit. I knew that. For sure.
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