What No One Sees

My friend over at Roman Hokie’s Tracks recently asked, “What kinds of things do you find are important to do in your daily life but nobody sees them being done and everyone assumes it’s just magic?”

I have taken this opportunity to reflect on my own work.  I have two jobs, one in the public school system, one in people’s homes.  In both positions I work primarily with kids who have autism, teaching them appropriate behavior and developing the skills they will need to maintain that behavior without me.  I love my job, love the kids, love learning with them.  I also find the work more challenging than anything I have ever done, which may be one reason I like it.  So where does the magic happen?

Roman was talking about paperwork in his post.  Of course I have paperwork in my behavioral support position, but most of that falls to supervisors and teachers.  I take data, sometimes I graph it, and I pass it on to my friendly neighborhood Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).  The BCBA creates programs based on how the students have responded to the interactions I documented.  I enjoy the data because it shows if what we are doing is making a difference.  I have an ongoing conversation with the BCBA and classroom teacher regarding what is working and why.  A few minutes here, a few minutes there, they give me pointers and feedback.  I process this information and develop my response to each of the student’s actions, based on a series of priorities: safety, meeting basic needs, communication, behavior for learning, and the actual skills.  

The skills my students are learning can be very different from the general population.  They might be learning to sit in their seat or initiate a social interaction.  They might be learning to use their words instead of a tantrum to get their way.  We are fortunate to have a series of experts who help advise us about their needs: occupational therapists, speech pathologists and the like.  I like to pull on their expertise any time they are visiting the classroom.  Quick pointers are incorporated into the body of information I use to interact with our students.  We also have monthly trainings, and other periodic meetings which help me understand the science and theories behind our programs.  

Finally, I am learning through observation.  I get to work with a team of incredible people, each with different strengths.  As I watch, I learn, often things which cannot be explained.  Our students depend on us to be consistent, so I must develop my own style in a way that meshes well with the others on the team.  

At any given point in time, I am assimilating this information to determine my own responses.  Pushing a child on the swing?  I’m also thinking about what the BCBA just shared with me about communication and behavior; I’m drawing out concepts I can generalize to interactions I will more than likely need in the next hour.  The child just screamed and hit me?  In my mind I am running through the events that lead up to the outburst, the child’s specific behavioral plan, the instructional methods utilized in that particular classroom, the needs of the child in the moment, and our general training for responding to a child in distress.  

I am also calming myself, assessing my own needs, and resources to get support.  A child acting out aggressively will spike your adrenaline the same as any other.  Different situations affect us all differently, and there are some things I have gotten used to.  Some things you cannot help, it simply is a physiological reaction to stress, so being able to take care of yourself is essential.  

I think I don’t always respond as quickly as others would have me do.  Perhaps they were watching and saw something I didn’t.  Perhaps they were not watching and simply think I should react like they would.  Other times, people come along side me and ask, “What are you thinking?” or “What do you need?”  I learn more from these interactions than anything else.  My gratitude to the instructors who have taught me by supporting cannot be measured, and I hope that as I grow and develop I can establish and maintain a similar culture of support in my work.  

I go home and rest or run or talk with friends or dance or pray.  I make art, make music.  I veg out and watch TV (Bones or Sherlock).  I keep the routines that keep me going.  I have learned to be honest when I am spent, learned how to say “no” by necessity, and how to adjust when things get off kilter.  I am blessed with friends who can respect these needs, even if they don’t entirely understand.  

And of course, I care deeply for the kids.  Sometimes I think that’s the actual magic.  I find out what’s important to them and meet them where they are.  It’s worth it to me.  They’re worth it.