When I tell people what it is I do as a career, I get one of three responses. A typical conversation with me goes like this: Hi, My name is Taveesha Guyton, and I am a Social Worker who works with the Intellectual Disabled and Autistic Population. The first response I usually get is, “Wow! That is cool.” The second response I get is, It takes a “Special Person” to do what it is you do. This compliment is usually followed by “God Bless You.” The third comment I get, you must be a patient person to work with “those people”. I would like to offer a few rebuttals to the compliments I have received working with the Special Needs Population.
1. “Wow that is cool.” No, it’s not cool. Please do not get me wrong, I understand the sentiment and respect the fact people think it is awesome and amazing that I have chosen to work with a particular group of people who society considers an underdog or a nuisance in many ways. I give of myself in a way which enhances someone else’s life and for that, I am grateful someone recognizes the passion I have working with this population. However, building roller coasters is a cool job to have. I think being an ice cream tester for Ben and Jerry’s is a cool job to have for a day. I think being an extra in a movie and telling all my friends, is cool! What I do as a profession is rewarding, and I do not take this career for granted. I am always learning and amazed at the capabilities of the individuals I serve. I am also aware of the many hurdles Individuals with Special needs have to overcome.
2.” It Takes A Special Person” The ability to engage in another’s life is challenging. The capacity to help someone who has a disability navigate the world created for “Neuro- typical People” is difficult. If I can be completely transparent; we as “Neuro-typical people”(average) take a lot for granted. If I can help people see the challenges individuals who are Intellectually Disabled and Autistic face, and it creates social change, I have done my job..
3. ” It Takes Patience To Work With “Those People.” I feel uneasiness when I hear people referred to this population as “those people”. At its core, working with the Intellectually Disabled and Autistic community is a Civil Rights issue. According to the Arc, “The history of living with a disability in the United States has largely been one of discrimination, segregation, and exclusion – from education, work, housing, and even from routine daily activities”.
The patience I have developed by working with “those people” has come from being in the trenches. I have battle scars. I have encountered physical aggression which includes: Having shirts ripped, glasses slapped off my face, been the target because clients could not get seconds on dinner due to diet restrictions. Non- compliance when it comes to take medication, eat meals, (even when proper substitute meals were available), getting into vans, get out of vans. I have been called names which
would make someone’s grandmother blush, but because of all that I have endured, this has made me a more patient person. As a result of the many battles I have lost, I have learned to anticipate maladaptive behaviors, as well have trained others, so they do not have to face the same fate.
I am not Wonder Woman. There is no “Thank a “Social Worker” day on the U.S calendar, like “National Boss Day, Or Administrator Day”. I get paid peanuts, and most of the time, I do not see my desk for days at a time because paper work surrounds it. I wear many hats: I am a lawyer, a teacher, an accountant, a taxi driver, a personal assistant, and a therapist. I make miracles happen for clients who are on shoe-string budgets. I connect people to resources; I create resources.
I am reminded of a quote, “Let the works I have done, speak for me”. I hope they do. I am proud of the work I do. No, I am not looking for a pat on the back for a job well done. I am not looking for accolades, or a day to be named in my honor. Just some understanding and maybe a trip to the Ben and Jerry’s Ice cream factory because being an Ice cream tester would be cool.