15,000 to none. On average, each of us speaks 15,000 words a day, but Seth speaks none. Imagine not being able to tell your family or friends how you feel or what you think. That’s how it is for Seth, a handsome twenty nine year old young man. Verbally, he cannot tell you of likes and dislikes or aches and pains. As a result, he resorted to hurting himself, hitting his head and digging at his face until it bled, occasionally hitting his own face and biting himself, rubbing his hands and arms raw as a form of communication. A small percentage of individuals across the country engage in self-injurious behaviors behavior and it’s not clear why or how this phenomena starts—is it pain or discomfort, fear, frustration or something biochemical? While Seth was supported by a loving family who understood this nonverbal communication, they faced the agonizing decision of placement in a group home due to circumstances beyond their control.
When things became difficult at the first home at which Seth was placed, he transferred to the Woodlea Home. At this point his self-injurious behavior was elevated, the sores on his face bad were in bad shape and his trust of new people in his life extremely low. Lynette VanDuine the home manager recalled the need to stay near Seth the first few two nights and playing calming music to help him get to sleep because he wouldn’t sleep in a new and unfamiliar bed.
In order to gain Seth’s trust, proactive planning indicated additional team members were needed and, for a period of time, at least one team member was planned to be with him all the time including at night. According to team members Kim, Emily and Kayla, MOKA’s introduction of “culture of gentleness” training which taught the team to recognize and respond appropriately to signs of trauma was extremely helpful to Seth as well as his housemates, many of whom have similar challenges with verbal communication.
Gradually and methodically, the Woodlea Team members built a relationship with Seth. Sometimes he would only allow certain members into his circle of comfort. This is especially true of newer team members at Woodlea. The gentle approach paid off as the team deliberately expanded Seth’s world, exploring what he liked to do in the community. They discovered he loves nature and visiting parks, he is an avid people watcher and enjoys going for “walks” limited only by the scarcity of accessible sidewalks and walkways. They found he also loves swimming when he gets the opportunity.
The team also encouraged his independence by creating the opportunity to do his own household chores like doing his own laundry or taking out the garbage. Kim said Seth now smiles large when doing his laundry which she interprets as his pride at helping out.
The changes for Seth have been dramatic. Team members describe him now as “…much more independent and less in need of such close interaction and constant reassurance.” His use of self-injurious behavior as a way of communication has decreased, finding other forms such as eye contact, directing a team member’s hand to indicate a want as well as the use of his contagious laugh to communicate his needs. The sores on his face have mostly cleared. As trust has increased, Seth’s personality and gifts have emerged. Team member Emily describes Seth as: “Funny, caring, charming, flirtatious, handsome and at the same time, headstrong and stubborn about his likes and dislikes.”
Seth’s universe expanded during a trip to Waterpark at Michigan Adventure arranged by the team. He developed a particular fondness for the wave pool where park officials arranged a special water chair allowing Seth to enjoy the wave action without being fully immersed The communication between Seth and his team members had improved so much, he could clue them when he no longer felt safe in the waves and they easily aided him.
While Seth’s story is one of individual resilience, it also shows the power of relationship. The Woodlea team embraced Seth and his challenges and worked hard to understand his emotional and communication needs. These healing relationships are only possible through the commitment, compassion and consistency of team members who remain engaged and involved in the lives of individuals like Seth.
If you or a loved one were similarly challenged, wouldn’t you want this compassionate and caring team looking out for you, seeking to understand your emotions and helping you or your loved one stay active and included? It is because of you, our supporters that this team is able to help Seth succeed.