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What do we know about those we care for day after day?
In many instances, we “knew them when.” For our son, it was when he was a baby and he showed no characteristics of autism. The fact that he didn’t speak before he was 2 years old was not unusual because everything else seemed in place. We worked hard to help him along throughout his childhood.
Now, at 18, his symptoms have been obvious for many years. One of his traits is that he appears as if he is ignoring people, although they have his complete attention. We will likely hear him quote things that they said when he returns home.
We remember them: before autism, before Alzheimer’s, before the horrible, physically and/or mentally disabling accident, before they couldn’t hold it together anymore because they drove while drinking and someone else died as a result, before cancer struck, before the stroke…
We know the person in our care better than most, even if they were born with “it”. We have cared for them for so long that we recognize what makes them “typical” more than what does not.
When our son is simply quiet and his teeth are showing, he is thinking good things. This is a blessing! When he is vocal in church at an inappropriate time, but smiling and clapping his hands onto his chest, he could be thinking “I did not want to come here and have to sit and be quiet, but I am enjoying the music.”
Then there is the other side. When one in our care is constantly cheerful, are they crying when we are not looking? “She became so mean when her illness began.” Maybe she was always mean and was able to control it. Maybe she was never mean, and still isn’t. Maybe she is afraid and expresses it with anger.
For those we care for and love, it is important that we do our best to see and touch the human needs that are beyond the hygienic, medical and physical help we give.
What do we know about them that helps us understand what their needs better than others? How do we help other care givers know them as we do?