Friday, January 4, 2013

Hear Me When I Can't Speak

Wendell Foster's Campus shares this remarkable story about Brad with the expressed permission of his guardian.

When you do what you love, they say that the best of who you are reveals itself.  Meet Brad.

Brad arrived to Wendell Foster’s Campus (WFC) in June of 1989.  Non-verbal, Brad communicates through body language and behavioral responses.  When troubled or restless, Brad would express his frustration by pacing constantly, make vocalization sounds, or self-stimulate by putting his fingers in his mouth.  These behaviors are often mistaken as “behavioral displays;” however, when someone cannot verbally communicate, s/he finds another way to communicate his or her frustration and/or dissatisfaction.
The first time I met Brad, he walked in the hallway with a physical therapy  (PT) assistant, hesitating as I approached him.  He seemed apprehensive and physically withdrew, taking on the appearance of being unapproachable.  Brad’s body language and my intuition encouraged me to keep my distance out of respect for Brad, a very different feeling I have when running into other residents.  I later learned Brad is an individual diagnosed with autism, which include social challenges, as well as displeasure with routine or environmental changes.  Rather than approach Brad, I simply walked by but always said hello.  Brad would either ignore me or pause and wait to see if something else would happen before continuing with his activity.  Sometimes Brad folded his hands clutched in front of him in a prayer-like position as if guarding himself.  When passing through his cottage, I have witnessed an obviously frustrated Brad display mannerisms that many would mistake as “acting out.”  In that particular moment, he clearly was not a happy camper.  Perhaps, his behavior reflected boredom and pent up energy. 

In December, a few weeks after starting my position, I ran into Brad riding an Amtryke, an adult three-wheeled bicycle in our long corridors with a PT assistant.  When riding, Brad seems to be a completely different person from the one I would see in the Cottage.  He seemed more relaxed and content, and his face held focus and determination as he pedaled by, hardly noticing me.  As usual, I said hello, but he gave me nary a glance.  He was into his ride.
As winter turned to spring, and spring into summer, I become more acquainted with life in our Centre Pointe Cottages, our intermediate care facility (ICF) that offers 24-hour medical support for residents.  Brad is the first individual whose “journey” I would get to know, which leads me to appreciate even more our staff’s commitment to empowering those we serve.  Wes Gaynor, the Cottage program director where Brad lives, invited me to tag along with Brad and Tammy at a swim aerobics class.  By mid-summer, the man I previously ran into the hallways no longer held wariness of me as I accompany him on his trip to a local health facility.  I would later learn from the people working closest with him that Brad is not the same man he was a year earlier.  Through his story, I would fully come to understand how WFC’s person-centered efforts with Brad created a greater quality of life for him.  Brad and that of his support team’s efforts testifies to WFC’s mission to empower individuals with developmental disabilities that we serve to realize their dreams and potential.

In the Next Blog Entry:  From Where Brad Started - ". . . a group of staff members held a team meeting to discuss . . . . a solution that would support Brad 'getting a life'."

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