I remember the exact moment I became fascinated by autism.
I was 18, working at a summer camp for people with disabilities. Halfway into the summer was Camp Festival…”Camp Chaos” would have been a more fitting name.
Fifteen kids with autism, Down syndrome and various other differences who were away from home for the first time. Away from their parents, routines, programs, structure, and rules; essentially, life as they knew it.
We were 10 college kids, ill prepared for what was in store.
It was a week of joy: dance parties, monster hunts, hours in the pool, rides down the zipline. It was a week of sheer exhaustion, sleepwalkers, midnight door alarms, bathroom incidents, and a near constant battle to keep track of everyone.
I was assigned to work one-on-one with an amazing 8-year-old boy, Moses. He was autistic and non-verbal. Moses wandered endlessly and would never let go of his stuffed dog. But he was adorable, quiet, and sweet in his own way.
We had a hard time at first. He wouldn’t eat, and he didn’t sleep much. The day-to-day camp schedule meant nothing to him. I had to let go of the camp routine and structure, and just go along with Moses and let him experience camp in his own way.
After the first couple days we fell into an easy routine of trips to the pool, time in the computer room, and an endless loop around the lodge and fire pit. He started eating much better when we realized how much he loved ketchup.
Then, there was that moment.
It was time for us to go to the computer room. But when we got there, the door was locked. Before I knew it, Moses had turned and ran. All I could do was chase after him.
He ran around the main lodge, into an attached cabin, through that cabin, up the stairs, and into the computer room. He went to that front door and unlocked it.
But he didn’t go to his computer after that. Instead, he turned and ran back out of the computer room the way he came in: down the stairs, through the cabin, around the main lodge and back to the door.
He stopped, calmly opened the door, and found his computer.
Afterward, I sat and watched him in fascination as he got lost in his computer game. He’d gone through all of that not to get into the room, but to get through that door.
In all of the years I worked at camp, that was the hardest, but there were so many little moments with Moses that made it extraordinary. At night he would take my hand and have me rub his back to fall asleep. And one morning, he said the only word he spoke all week.
He said my name.
That week opened a door for me and started the journey that led me to where I am today.
One summer of camp turned into seven, then an internship. Every summer the camp partnered with Colorado Children’s Hospital to run a program for children using adaptive communication systems. Each camper would come with a one-on-one speech therapist. The camp day was split into activity-based speech therapy and regular camp activities. Kids would regularly make as much progress in an immersive week at camp as they would in a year of traditional therapy.
After realizing I couldn’t be a professional camp counselor, the director of the Augmentative Language program at Colorado Children’s helped me get a job with PRC/Saltillo.
There, I spent many years learning about language development and the different ways that people with autism learn and interact with language. I got to visit schools and hospitals across New England to educate teachers, parents, and clinicians. I got to see every day how having a voice can unlock so many doors, and to see the emotional impact of a child to be able to tell their parents “I love you.”
Then I discovered Brain Power, and right away I knew it was something that I wanted to be a part of. It was a new way of connecting, a new way of unlocking doors, and I could see how much of a difference the company could make in the lives of so many people. I dedicated myself to becoming a part of this team, even going so far as to showing up at our founder’s front door with a copy of my resume.
Now I am thrilled to be a Customer Success Manager with Brain Power. I am still able to work with schools and parents, and I get the opportunity every day to help unlock those doors to connection.