Some of our students with developmental disabilities need a little extra attention in order to participate fully in our summer camps and recreation classes. In order to continue our theme of saying “yes”, we launched a new assistant program last summer. For a small additional fee, we are able to provide a one-on-one assistant for the entire class or camp. These assistants are high school students who are a part of our teacher training program and may or may not have had prior experience with students who have developmental disabilities. The job of the assistant during camp or class is to fully focus on their student: help them fully participate through encouragement and tactile cues and help them take breaks to recover when needed.
Katie is one of our assistants who worked one-on-one with a student who was diagnosed with mixed receptive- expressive language disorder for multiple weeks over the summer. Though she had little prior experience, she learned how to be a great assistant and also a lot about herself.
I thrilled to share her college essay below regarding her experience:
“I am an assistant dance teacher during the school year and absolutely adore my job. The summer before my senior year, I was given the opportunity to work with a three year old girl with mixed receptive- expressive language disorder for three weeks. Mixed receptive- expressive language disorder is a communication disorder that makes the expression of thoughts, needs, or wants challenging. Children with mixed receptive-expressive language disorder may have significant problems understanding what is being said to them as well. Because she is so young and struggles to process directions, it is difficult for her to pay attention and participate in dance class. My days at summer camp were filled with frustration and strict discipline, followed by numerous sensory breaks. Despite these struggles, her personality exuded humor and joyfulness as she spun across the dance floor.
At first I didn’t understand why I was put in this position. I did not think I could make an impact on her life because I had trouble understanding how to discipline and interact with her. I was discouraged for about a week and dreaded waking up early to go to summer camp. All the other kids in summer camp assumed I was mean because I had to be strict with her, so I felt rejected. I do not have an aggressive personality, so I was constantly instructed to be more disciplinary, which felt wrong: I needed to provide structure for her but I wasn’t sure how to do it.
My favorite memory of those three weeks was eating snack with her everyday. The assistants would eat on the floor with each other while the students ate at a table, but she always insisted on sitting on the floor next to me. One day, she gave me a hug and told me she loved me. In that moment, all the chasing her down and the breaks were completely worth it. I realized that my expectations were wrong. I was able to make her feel something she didn’t normally feel, included and valued.
As the weeks continued, we grew closer. Disciplining her became easier because once my attitude changed, we had fun together. On the last day of summer camp, our separation was highlighted by big hugs and another “I love you”. I left camp with a different feeling than the first day. I felt accomplished because I had lit a little spark in her heart and that is all I needed.
This experience taught me to be myself and live with joy. Social reputation is highly idolized in today’s society. I, like most teenage girls my age, struggle to be bravely unique and not feel judged. I am usually a quiet type who hesitates to stand up for what I believe in and blends into the crowd. However, she never hesitated to be herself with a big smile on her face. Despite her differences and struggles, she was boldly herself. Using her example, I promised myself I will be unapologetically genuine to who I truly am. I have started to speak up often, do what I believe is right, and unleash my personality a little more. I realized that my true self has so much to give to the world, such as helping kids and spreading kindness. I will forever be grateful to her for showing me what true bravery is – loving who I am and being joyful despite the circumstances.” – Katie Saxon, Class of 2018
When you accept students with developmental disabilities into your studio, you provide a place to dance and an amazing learning experience for teachers as well. Light a little spark today!