Darian’s story is about how Darian and his mother taught me that everyone should be given the opportunity to be celebrated.
As you may have read elsewhere, I was as an occupational therapist for more than 25 years. For many of those years, I worked with children and their families. And with many autistic children.
Decades ago, the province of New Brunswick, Canada started additional funding for services to pre-school aged children with autism. One of the services funded was occupational therapy. Early on, it was only one-on-one therapy, usually delivered in the child’s home. Sometimes at daycare. After a little while, another occupational therapist and I started to pilot an occupational therapy school readiness group. Because many of the children we treated in occupational therapy were going off to school soon. Most lacked some of the skills they would likely need for a successful start to Kindergarten.
Darian was one of the children in our very first group. Although he attended daycare, the morning group was his first experience with a more structured setting. Therefore, we organized our pre-school group to mimic some aspects of Kindergarten. Also, we prepared activities for the children to practice some specific skills that needed help. Like fine motor-skills, gross-motor skills, and sensory-motor skills.
On the last morning of our pre-school group, I was an office supply store, picking up ink for my printer. By chance (maybe some sort of divine intervention or the universe’s alignment) I happened to walk down the aisle that had printed certificates. Now, this was decades ago, at a time before there was so much available online in digital format. Almost as an afterthought, I picked up certificates for our group. However, we had not discussed handing anything out to the children on the last day. Forgive us. It was our first such group and we learned as much as the children in it!
Subsequently, and hurridly before the group started the other occupational therapist and I prepared the certificates for each of the children.
Then, at the end of the group, when the parents came to collect their children, we handed out the certificates. I wish I could say we made more of a ceremony of it, but it was rather simply done.
I will always remember the look on Darian’s mother’s face when he received his certificate of “graduating” from our little group. Always.
It changed my practice as an occupational therapist. More importantly, it changed me as a person.
Darian’s mom, Anna was very surprised. Then delighted. Then tearful too. And finally, proud. Just proud.
It was only then I realized the meaning of this little certificate. The one we delivered as a postscript. It meant everything in the world to Darian’s mom.
This certificate was likely the first Darian had received in his five short years to date.
With autism, many of the interactions with professionals, caregivers, educators were always slightly tilted toward the challenges that Darian experienced. What is most difficult in his day? OK, that is what we will work on.
We had forgotten to give attention to everything Darian had learned. To acknowledge what he had also achieved. We had forgotten to celebrate Darian.
Therefore, in this simple certificate, we acknowledged Darian for what he achieved. We celebrated him. In writing. In front of other people. And we shared it with the person that loved him best, his mom.
Darian struggled with so many of the difficulties that young children with autism have. His language was limited. He was what we call a picky eater, he ate very few foods. Many of his fine and gross motor skills were delayed. He had difficulty with his daily routine and any sort of change.
On the other hand, Darian was also easy to engage with any of the toys I brought to his house for one-on-one therapy. He loved to help me unpack what was in my big therapy suitcase. We worked a lot on his fine motor skills, and he worked hard! Also, he loved to try out new toys, even though he had his favorites (superheroes).
Anna was a young mom with two small children. She was like a sponge trying to soak up anything we therapists said. She was lovely and kind. Worried about his future. Mostly trying to get through every day with a young family and not enough help.
I realized on that day that I had untapped power. One previously unbeknownst to me. I could celebrate people. I should celebrate and acknowledge other people. Also, that had incredible meaning. Yes, to that one person. But also incredibly to the people around them. The celebration of success was important. Moreover, it was powerful. People and their good work should always be given attention. Who knows, it might be the first time they’ve been told they are doing something well?
Therefore, here is the takeaway. I have created a Sensory-Friendly Champion Certificate. Free to download, free to use. No email sign up. Just please use it to celebrate people doing good.
Because becoming sensory-friendly is an achievement. What is more, many people around the world have taken up the cause. Just like Darian, they deserve a celebration. Their hard work. Their dedication might otherwise be unrecognized. And just like Darian’s mom, Anna, the people around them deserve to know too.
Make Darian’s story powerful in your life too. Go to an event or location that is now sensory-friendly? Then, celebrate it!
Is there a person, group, or organization helping places or experiences become sensory-friendly? Then, acknowledge them!
Click on the link and download the Sensory-Friendly Champion Certificate I have left it as a word document so you can type into it too if you like.
Hand them out and share them.
We celebrate together what is sensory-friendly in the world.
*names and a few details are changed to respect confidentiality.
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Christel Seeberger worked as an occupational therapist for more than 25 years helping people with sensory sensitivity who experience sensory overload. Christel has sensory sensitivity herself; she has hearing loss and wears hearing aids. She founded Sensory Friendly Solutions in 2016. Sensory Friendly Solutions brings together people around the world looking for sensory friendly living and businesses and organizations who offer sensory friendly experiences.