How Working With Special Needs Children Filled My Life With Gratitude

It was the summer of 2011, and I needed a job.

Right after my junior year of college, my mom introduced me to one of her friends who ran a camp for special needs children, starting from the age of 2 all the way up to 22.

There were a variety of children, including those with autism and Down syndrome, both verbal and nonverbal.

The camp was called Camp Giborim, and it was located at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) by my neighborhood.

After my interview, I landed a job as a specialist.

With this occupation came my own classroom, where I was able to teach arts and crafts to classmates of all ages.

I was also able to choreograph dances for the children.

I’m not going to lie; I was a bit reluctant to take the position.

First of all, as cute as they are, I have little patience for children.

As the oldest of five, I've seen and heard enough to make me hold off on having little ones of my own.

Secondly, I have no filter and curse like a sailor. How would I be able to restrain myself, let alone the kids, for eight to nine hours a day?

The last reason was my weak stomach.

I've fainted while reading about surgical procedures, and I promptly threw up after recounting the experience later on.

During my interview, the camp director Scott asked me, “Are you good with vomit?”

He peered over his glasses as he awaited my answer.

“Sure,” I said, through clenched teeth.

“Okay. I’ve been vomited on, and I've dealt with blood, diarrhea, everything,” he said with a wave of his hand, as if we were talking about brunch menu items.

“I’ve seen and cleaned it all. This isn’t a job for someone with a weak stomach.”

“Got it,” I replied with a firm nod.

“Can you draw?” Scott asked.

“Stick figures,” I laughed.

After all that, I somehow landed the position.

For someone who was a communications major with minors in marketing and journalism, I hadn't worked with children much in my collegiate career, aside from volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club.

Yet, here I was with over 100 kids.

Challenge accepted.

There was something about camp that was truly amazing.

The children positively changed over the course of the two months, and it was nothing but laughs and learning for those who were there.

And I’m not just talking about the children here.

I changed, too.

These children truly amazed me.

From their laughter, their singing and their intelligence to the way their faces lit up over something most of us take for granted, these things will never leave my memory.

There were children who had the memory of a calendar, nonverbal children who communicated in their own special ways and others who knew more song lyrics than I ever will.

Sure, playing Justin Bieber over and over on my iPod drove both me and the other camp counselors crazy, but the happy shrieks from the children were too good to resist.

Over time, I not only gained patience, but I was also not as concerned with the things I used to deem important.

If I got glitter in my hair, it wasn't that big of a deal.

Did the children have fun and laugh? That was all that mattered.

I had "helpers" assist in setting up the room for art in the best way they could. They were so eager to do so, and it was astonishing to see how something I saw as so simple was such a big deal to them.

I must admit one thing, though.

Before working at camp, I was wary because I knew nothing about special needs children. Now, I welcome them with open arms.

Camp ended with very few dry eyes, mine included.

I surprised myself. After coming home and telling my friends about my experience, I would tear up every time.

Luckily for me, it was not my last experience with these kids.

I was a specialist again the following summer, and I even babysat one of the children with Down syndrome for quite some time.

I was in the Best Buddies Friendship Walk as team captain for Zofia’s Zigzaggers.

Though National Down Syndrome Awareness Month has passed, every month should be dedicated to these individuals.

According to the National Down Syndrome Society, there are about 400,000 individuals living with Down syndrome in America. For this reason, acceptance and love needs to be extended to others more than ever.

Never give up on those with Down syndrome and autism. They will surprise you and change you for the better.