I walked in the room with my two best friends not really knowing what to expect. Jim quickly approached us, telling us to take off our jackets, put down our bags, and get ready for an interesting morning. I always wanted to help out and do some volunteer work with developmentally delayed children, but I never had had the opportunity. Today was my chance to see what it was like.
Jim assigned each of us to a different child. I was assigned to Matthew. After his mother talked briefly to me, she left and Matthew was my responsibility for the next two hours.
The first activity was an arts and crafts project. That was easy enough, or so I thought. I sat Matthew down next to me and attempted to help him begin. Within five minutes he was crawling from corner to corner of the room touching everything and anything. He was seven years old, nonverbal, and had no attention span whatsoever. Jim told me there was nothing I could do except crawl around with him. For the next hour I was on my hands and knees crawling around the room trying to keep up with Matthew: trust me, it was not easy.
The next planned activity was swimming. The first thing I had to do was get Matthew changed into his bathing suit. That was an activity in itself. It took three volunteers to help me change him. Once he was changed and had on his little life jacket, he was ready to go into the pool. He was actually very well-behaved in the water. He just splashed from side to side of the pool with a great smile plastered on his face. Before I knew it it was time to get Matthew changed again.
Once he was in his dry clothes, it was time to end the morning with animal crackers and apple juice. The clock struck noon, and one by one parents arrived to pick up their children. I greeted Matthew's mother and was able to chat with her for a little while. She was very appreciative and must have thanked me ten different times. As they were leaving, Matthew turned around, grabbed me very tightly, and gave me a huge hug. It was then that I realized exactly why people referred to Matthew as "special." fl
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.