Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Danger of Becoming Desensitized on the Job

Kids come and go

I work in a school setting--a great school setting with small caseloads, cute kids, lots of resources, two university medical schools close by all in a wonderful town.  I've worked here a long time, and have seen oodles of kids come and go--a virtual revolving door of children with various handicapping conditions from autism to deafness to Down Syndrome to rare genetic conditions.  

The reality of my job is that I see many children with severe handicapping conditions, all day, every day. Often my schedule runs in 30 minute increments for quite a long time---a couple of children with articulation disorders, followed by a nonverbal child with autism, followed by work with a child in a 'push-in' regular education setting, followed by a social skills group.....hopefully lunch somewhere, followed by more children.  Meetings are thrown in sporadically.  Sometimes, after a busy day, the previous six hours are a bit of a blur.

     I realize that a parent with a child with a disability is often working very hard to cope with the grief, the loss of a dream, the anger, and the struggles of day to day life. Rather than feeling numb,  parents often have heightened sensitivity to their child's struggles, and are acutely aware of their child's problems and treatments.

Me?  When I stare at my caseload list, I have to fight the dangers of becoming desensitized to the trauma all around me.  It's very easy to reflect on caseloads in terms of numbers, age level, functioning level, and forget that they all come from loving families and each child has a unique set of needs.
    I realize that for my own mental health and to maintain roles in the school, I can not take on all the child's problems, nor can I bond with each parent, become best friends, provide for their child's daily needs and otherwise overstep.   Remaining sensitive still means there are boundaries to who I am, and my role in the family's life.  My overarching role is as the child's speech pathologist and this role has to stay professional.

It helps me to keep the following in mind, though, as I do my job.
I try to step out of myself and reflect--
  • When a new child moves in, am I proactive in finding out his current health diagnosis and problems, present level of performance, and other relevant history? (Or am I assuming that if I need to know things, people will tell me--he is just one more kid to schedule.)
  • Am I a compassionate listener? (Or do I assume an 'us' against 'them' attitude and shut out all pain.)
  • Am I trying to prevent outbursts from children and provide them with more productive ways to handle frustration? (Or do I simply react to sometimes a constant  aggressive barrage that I can complain about.)
  • Am I flexible in scheduling and working with the kids? (Or do I spew out speech guidelines and educational lingo resulting in rigidity and anxiety.)
  • Do I problem-solve collaboratively?  (Or blame single mindedly)
Staying on the positive course helps me in my profession and my life.  Treating each child as an individual and continuing to be an advocate for the child will hopefully counteract becoming numb on the job.  I can only try!


  1. Great post and a great point! You are so right!

  2. Totally not what I thought this post was going to be about when I read the title! I thought you were going to say that you don't want to be desensitized to the increase in children with disabilities as a "new normal". This is a fear of mine. I want acceptance but not at the expense of people believing autism is okey-dokey, it's not.
    But back to your post. I'm reminded of a prayer I love by Thomas Merton, 20th century catholic monk:
    "My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing."
    I think you can see where the parallel is. The desire to help the children of course is not enough, but it speaks volumes about intention and the mindfulness, the fact that you even thought to post about this, will lead you to help the kids, as those of us who know you know that you do.
    Have you seen this blog post? I think this should be required reading for anyone who works with these fragile kids.
    First sentence, last paragraph, AMEN!

    1. If I ever become numb, I need to retire. Thank you Kristine, for your post.

  3. Great post. It's easy to become overwhelmed. Thanks for providing a meaningful perspective.