College is where I found my passion for working with people on the autism spectrum. I found my passion is uplifting differently abled individuals. I found it by way of the Special Olympics where I served in any and all roles the organization needed me to. From soccer coach [Shout out, Area 33 Team!] to basketball game scorekeeper. I was there from the opening to closing ceremonies. Watching the athletes engaging with each other and celebrating their victories was one of the highlights of my undergraduate years.
I am now well into my second year of graduate school earning my masters in clinical social work. The population I seek to serve as a social worker has remained the same, but my outlook has shifted. I found myself asking how can I support, empower, and uplift my clients when I will never be able to understand their experiences as people with autism? Amazing opportunities, including my role as an Adults Program Counselor at CA Human Services, helped me discover that one of the most powerful things we can all do is validate the feelings of others.
It is easy to take for granted skills practiced often in everyday life that seem so natural. For others, a sudden shift in their schedule or engaging with strangers may feel monumentally overwhelming. These big feelings can lead to big reactions that are incomprehensible at times. I’ve found that, in addition to being patient, validating my clients’ feelings really helps them better cope with those feelings and better control their reactions. This is a lesson that all of us could benefit from in our lives. When others’ reactions confound us, it may be more practical to validate their feelings than to struggle to understand their behavior.
Working with neurodiverse people has made me a better person in so many ways. And serving through uplifting differently abled individuals gives me a purpose.
This post was authored by CA Human Services employee Emma Rutstein.