The sun shines brightly as I leave school, get into my car, and head for Bradley Hospital. This year, as a senior at Seekonk High School, I have been given the opportunity to leave the usual classroom setting once a week to volunteer. I chose to spend this valuable time working with mentally disabled children at Bradley Children's Hospital. I work alongside a teacher in the outpatient/pre-school section, in a classroom with two children - a classroom very different from one I have ever known.
The difference between this classroom is that the children have been diagnosed with a mental ailment. One child is autistic and non-verbal, using facilitated communication. The other has a condition called PDD, (one step above autism) and is completely verbal. Both children require strong motivation and a lot of attention. This combination creates an atmosphere which is both demanding and compassionate. My role in the classroom is not only to help the teacher, but to become part of the children's educational experience. I work one-on-one completing academics with a student. Additionally, we work as a group on such activities as cooking, artwork, abstract reasoning, and "sensory integration" (a type of physical education class involving the individual's perception of spatial relations). Everyday activities, which may be taken for granted by others require a lot of strength from the children. This has opened my eyes immensely.
One of the main reasons why I chose this was because of my desire to help those who are less fortunate. However, it has also helped me to realize my capabilities. I now know that I have the ability to work with the disabled. I have lost my fear, and I believe in myself a lot more. It is true that my work is very challenging; there are many days that I leave Bradley exhausted emotionally and physically. There have been times when I have left on the verge of tears as well. But pity doesn't heal, love does. And I have grown to love these children in my own way, even though I see them only once a week. This experience has been both rewarding and fulfilling. I've learned also that I do have the capacity to make a difference in their lives, no matter how small it may be. One smile makes it all worthwhile.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.