Working with children is a challenge for anyone, regardless of intelligence or skill. I worked as a counselor at the Science Museum of Minnesota’s enrichment camps for three summers. My main responsibilities included facilitating games for campers and making sure the science-based activities ran smoothly. Tantrums and other behavioral issues were common occurrences due to the age of the campers I worked with, which was typically five to ten years old. A call home or other standard measure of discipline, such as a timeout, would usually resolve the matter.

However, during my final summer at the Museum, I received a task that caused me to rethink my job approach completely. This task, rarely assigned due to its stressful nature, required a counselor to work one-on-one a disruptive student. That summer I was assigned to work with seven-year-old James.James was a camper who displayed characteristics found on the autistic spectrum.

According to the report provided by his parent, James had constant difficulties following directions and often misused items by throwing them or using them to attack others. Upon hearing this, I had concerns about my ability to help him because I had never worked with a camper on the autistic spectrum before. To make matters worse, I would be supporting him in a week-long carpentry class, meaning potentially dangerous saws and hammers would be in his hands for most the day.As camp began, I found myself unprepared for the assignment of keeping James focused. The experience I had built through years of working at the Museum proved ineffective. His attention to authority figures and lack of regard for consequences were completely different that any other camper I had worked with.

It was a very demanding duty for me just to keep him from misusing the tools, which he tried to play with constantly while ignoring class activities. By the end of the first two days, I had made almost no progress minimizing his disruptive behavior. I decided then that, moving forward, I would have to take the initiative to find the best way to help James focus.I first set out to utilize the network of coworkers that I had built at the Museum. Through asking my supervisor and fellow counselors, I learned the methods of refocusing that had proved effect for each of them in the past while working with James. Next, I reached out to his parents in order to discover the ways they had developed to keep James on task. By using these new focusing techniques, I began to see noticeable differences in his behavior.

His response levels to these discipline methods were far better than the past few days where he had mostly ignored my directions. Little by little, James began participating in class activities without the same difficulties as before. By the end of the week, I no longer had to constantly prevent James’ disruptive behavior.By working with James, I have come to understand the tremendous value of networking and communication when approaching a challenge. This experience taught me that by taking the initiative to work at a problem from different angles, one can tackle complex tasks.

Today, I will continue learning from the experiences of others while using those lessons to improve my own abilities moving forward.

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I'm Colleen!

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