This week I attended a fundraising meeting for ASDA via Skype. The camera that gave me a view of the room was mounted up high and gave me a bird’s eye view of the other attendees. As everyone shared their ideas and took on tasks that would move us towards the goal of raising money, it struck me that I was looking down on a room of selfless people. Over half of the people on this fundraising committee are volunteers and the paid employees of ASDA do not have fundraising in their job descriptions. Everyone was there because we share the knowledge that the service dogs provided by ASDA are life changing and should be shared with many more families than are currently possible.
That got me thinking about all of the people that have entered our lives as a result of Gray’s autism. There have been countless therapists and therapy students and babysitters and volunteers that have shown us that the world is fundamentally good and filled with people that have a bottomless generosity of spirit.
I’m thinking about Lauren, our first speech therapy student who answered my ad for extra help back when Gray was just 2-years-old. Lauren spent hours at my house working with Gray and brainstorming ideas to help him while weaving her way into our family. She would work with Gray whether he was in good spirits or bad. She didn’t run away when he drooled all over her or sneezed in her face or screamed for hours. She stuck with us and provided me with comfort and support. And, after she graduated, her sister Haley filled in to join our family as seamlessly as Lauren had.
I’m thinking about our ABA therapists Tammy, Lorin, Lindsay, Jenny, Tatiana, Katy, and Niche. These ladies have been screamed at and pinched and wrestled with our screaming’ demon without complaint. I remember one evening a couple of years ago when Barry came home from work to find Lindsay at the table trying to get Gray to sit in his seat to eat his dinner. He was screaming and flailing and sliding out of the chair and she just calmly picked him up and placed him back in front of his dinner plate. Barry found me in the back of the house and said, “Whatever she is getting paid, it is clearly not enough.” True. But, I have learned that these ladies, like all of the people who have joined our lives, are not looking to just make a paycheck. These ladies are deeply committed to helping my son because they see his potential and they feel a connection to him and our family.
I’m thinking about our speech therapist, Jenny, who worked with Gray from the time he was 18-months-old and couldn’t swallow liquids or manage toddler foods and stayed with us all through the speech and language delays and into the present day despite the fact that behavior management is not part of her job as an SLP. She and all of the other therapists at Callier (Jamie and Jan) have been a source of information and reassurance for me as I navigate this unfamiliar territory. I’m thinking about the therapists who never gave up on Gray’s ability to operate the iPad for communication (Yvette, Lindsay, Melinda, Melissa and Carla) even when that meant hours of sitting in a bare room so that Gray could not look at anything but the iPad and the choices in front of him to help him understand the power of communication through a device.
I’m thinking about the teachers Susan, Kendra and Jemarcus, who we all know are underpaid, but continue to pour their hearts into spending 40 hours a week with kids like mine to help them achieve their best. The teachers who spend difficult days with our kids and still find the energy to answer all of the questions and concerns for us parents truly deserve a medal.
I’m thinking of the babysitters who could easily find jobs caring for typical kids. These girls do not flinch when I warn them about pooptastrophes and Gray’s tendency to ingest non-food items. They don’t complain when they have to spend an unreal amount of time pushing Gray on a swing or jumping on a trampoline. I’m thinking about our INCREDIBLE nanny, Carolina. The hours that Carolina has spent sitting in therapy sessions to learn the best way to work with Gray, while still providing love to Zoe and Lena and order for our household are truly astounding to me. I’m thinking about the Sunday that she spent training with Kati and Hope so that she would get the best training possible to take Gray out in the community. When I tried to offer her extra pay for that day, she laughed at me and waived the money away. In her mind, Gray’s service dog was just as important to her as it was to anyone else in our family…of course she would come to the training without considering it “overtime.”
And, I’m thinking about all of the incredible people who make ASDA possible. The puppy raisers are all volunteers. They show up for monthly meetings to learn training techniques and they keep these precious animals in their homes for up to a year before releasing them to further their training and get placed with their new families. This is truly selfless work. When we went to Portland for camp this summer, almost the entire staff was made up of volunteers. There were autism specialists and puppy raisers and amateur trainers all there to help our service dogs get a “tune up” while the kids had a fabulous week. Kati and Laurel worked tirelessly to ensure that our kids with autism and our typical kids could share a camp experience that would be unavailable to other families like ours.
I’m sure that I have missed some of the people who should be included in this list. There really are so many people who have come to our aid over the years. The point is that, not one of them had to help us. Any one of them could have chosen a life in retail or restaurant management or some other more pleasant career. But, they didn’t. They chose to help us. For that, I am truly grateful.