Serving the Underserved: Caring for People Who Are Both Old and Mentally Retarded: A Handbook for Caregivers

By Mary C. Howell; Deirdre G. Gavin et al. | Go to book overview

74
FULL CIRCLE AND MORE

Deirdre Gavin

As a student at the Kennedy Aging Project, I began with focused goals and specific expectations, unaware that my internship would resurrect the experiences of some twenty years past, enlighten my present knowledge, and expand my vision of future possibilities in health care.

In 1965, as members of the Commonwealth Service Corps, five other volunteers and I lived with the children in Stephen Bowen Hall at the Fernald State School. Our small group of college and graduate students might best be described as "multidisciplinary," for I was a classics major, and others were modern language, history, and English majors. Only our team leader, a doctoral candidate in psychology, had specialized education in mental retardation. We came with the energy and naivete of youth and a creativity charged by ignorance of unwritten institutional "rules."

At that time, we were clearly intruders, watched by security police for several months, and viewed suspiciously by many administrators. Our mission was to provide the children with a varied program of activities, based on the simple assumptions that children need love and encouragement to build trust and to develop self-confidence; need good food, fresh air, exercise, and fun; and need rewards, enjoyable activities to look forward to, and the opportunity to participate in planning for these activities. While choice of activities was part of our original plan, we quickly learned that our children had so little experience that our first task was to introduce many different summer activities. By the end of the summer they would be able to make choices.

When we first arrived at Bowen Hall, the children simply sat on wooden benches and watched television--all day, every day. Medications were prescribed for those who became restless or wished to go outside. Our plans included daily trips off the institutional grounds, arts and crafts in other buildings, and outdoor games. With the daring of

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