Piece by piece: Teacher spends days in service learning from disabled client


Piece by piece: Teacher spends days in service learning from disabled client

Standing over her gray desk at the Franklin Day Program on a Tuesday, Theresa Carter spread out an array of giant puzzle pieces and helped her student, Jane*, create the picture she wanted to make.

The asterisk in this story reflects that the name has been changed for the service recipient’s privacy.

Standing over her gray desk at the Franklin Day Program on a Tuesday, Theresa Carter spread out an array of giant puzzle pieces and helped her student, Jane*, create the picture she wanted to make.

“Look, that piece goes with Mr. Chicken,” Carter said, guiding Jane to snap it in place. “I think this one goes over here with Mr. Snake.”

Puzzles are one of Jane’s favorite activities when she comes to the Franklin Day Program, a component of Williamson County WAVES.

The nonprofit organization helps adults and children with disabilities, providing them with several avenues to further their intellectual development. WAVES helps provide teachers who work with the students at the learning facility or the individual’s home.

For Carter, that means providing Jane with daily service from sunup to sundown. Jane lives independently from her parents and has 24-hour assistance. While she has the functionality skills of a pre-teen, the autistic 30-year-old is nonverbal, but usually communicates how she feels depending on the width of her smile across her face.

Carter and Jane have been together for four months. As house manager, Carter hangs out with her throughout the day, helping her do whatever she wants to do.

And similar to the puzzle they work on together, Carter has bit by bit gotten to know Jane — without her really speaking a word.

***

Life as a house manager means starting the day with Jane, getting her up to making sure she’s dressed. Coffee is almost always a must.

“Really, I am here to meet her daily needs, maintain her required medication and keep up with any medical needs. Otherwise, I give her lot of choices of what she wants to do each day.”

Most of Jane’s days are wide open. Carter and Jane love to go for walks when the weather allows. Crowded spaces make Jane uncomfortable, so going to Wal-Mart or Kroger to shop are generally out of the question during peak hours.

Otherwise, a large portion of Jane’s time is spent in her sensory room, where she has her snap beads, soft blocks and giant LEGOs to build anything she wants.

“This really helps with her eye coordination,” Carter said. “She never mixes up the color of her beads. Everything has an order to it.”

Jane likes everything to have a place, to the point where she will know if Carter moves something around in her room that have touches of the color purple, which is her favorite.

Sometimes, they sit and work puzzles together at home, too, though Carter knows that Jane wants to increase her existing stock of them.

“If she can’t solve it, she will put her hands up and begin putting the pieces back into the box,” Carter said. “I usually try to come and help her then. One day we sat down and put an entirely new puzzle together.”

But other times, Carter and Jane volunteer, too. Jane’s favorite place to volunteer is Graceworks, where she helps by hanging clothes. She also contributes to Meals on Wheels deliveries, with Jane delivering the food to whoever is behind the door.

“That’s one aspect of WAVES, is that they get to volunteer,” Carter said. “She likes volunteering, she really does. It’s important to her and she enjoys helping. And giving her that ability makes her happy.”

***

For Carter, though, she feels like in some ways she receives the most benefit from her job. The hours can be long and some days are more stressful than others, but she overall she has no qualms about being a house manager.

She started out as a nurse and worked for smaller businesses all over before coming to WAVES a couple of years ago.

“I’ve always loved people and helping others,” she said. “Every day is different. I always want to ask and not tell other people what do as a manager. You do have to have patience for this job, but I tell people it’s not a personal patience. It’s patience from God.”

She said she’s learned a lot from the people she serves, especially in staying in someone’s personal space on a daily basis.

“It’s not always about what we can do for them,” she said. “Sometimes it’s about what they can teach us. They are adults too. They teach us to be better than what you are.”

In the next couple of days, WAVES will go into celebration mode for Direct Support Professional Recognition Week, to give people with Carter’s job recognition about what they do and how they help others on a daily basis.

Emily West covers Franklin for Home Page Media Group. Contact her at emily@franklinhomepage.com. Follow her on Twitter via @emwest22.

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