A couple weeks ago I wrote about one of my clients, M, who can be very difficult to work with. I had a less than fun time working with him in a one to one situation, and it happened in front of my boss. I was embarrassed and my confidence was shaken, but still, I vowed to learn from that experience and figure out just how to work with M.
Yesterday, two weeks to the day that this happened, I had to take M out to the store to buy clothing and hygiene products. M is autistic and non verbal, and he has a mind of his own, meaning that directing or redirecting him can sometimes be difficult. Imagine my surprise when M turned out to be a delight to work with. He didn’t resist me once, didn’t need physical guidance for the most part, responded to verbal prompts, and was an absolute joy to be around! We went to a couple stores and I treated him to lunch, and then we went for a walk in the park. The whole time, he didn’t stop smiling.
It was then that I had my own epiphany. Two weeks ago I thought that I was the problem, that I had not learned how to work with M, and that I wasn’t ever going to be able to control him in a one to one public setting. It never occurred to me then that maybe M was having a bad day. Perhaps he wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to be at the office waiting in line. Even I didn’t want to be there. Yet, he has no way of telling me this, and little impulse control, so of course he’s going to do whatever he can to GTFO of that place. I also went into the situation with a sense of trepidation and dread. I knew it was going to be a nightmare, and so it was.
Yesterday, I chose a different mindset. It may very well be a nightmare, but it might not be. I reminded myself to take each situation as it presents itself. I also gave M a little more autonomy and trusted him to respond to cues, and he did. Because I went into the situation with an empty mind I was able to be both reactive and proactive, and create a safe and fun experience for M.
I know he enjoyed it, too. M likes to grab your hand and bring it to his head, signaling that he likes his head rubbed. In the park he did this several times and I responded with the usual rubbing. The last time he grabbed my hand in a way that was more gentle than usual, and he simply held it as we walked. I looked over at him and he smiled at me. I felt myself getting a little misty-eyed. Yesterday I realized I was more than a staff member and caretaker for M.
I was also his friend. I don’t even know how to quantify the gratitude I feel for that.