This is Jake. Jake generally uses sign language to communicate. For Christmas he received an iPhone and has been learning to use it to aid in communicating with others who don’t know sign language.
At Jacob’s Ladder, Jake participates weekly in mental health sessions with the assistance of his sign-language interpreter, Tara. During these sessions we’ve been addressing Jake’s anxiety around the difficulty he often experiences interacting with new individuals. Jake has worked hard to recognize where these anxieties originate from and has learned to utilize coping skills as well as problem solving skills to work towards overcoming them.
A culmination of Jake’s willingness to face his fears and tackle them head-on resulted in a field trip taken during his mental health hour. Jake explained that his reluctance to communicate with new people was related to a difficult experience he had a few years ago in a Target store. He described attempting to interact with an employee and being embarrassed that she could not understand him. As we addressed these issues, Jake eventually decided he felt comfortable practicing his new skills in the very environment where his difficult experience had occurred. So we obtained parental consent, and off to Target we went! Jake was somewhat familiar with our plan, as we discussed how events would go in the week prior to our field trip. As his therapist, I developed a scavenger hunt of sorts for Jake to complete while at Target. It included interacting with several employees to find various items and ended with a stop at the in-store Starbucks to order drinks.
As most things go in life, this trip was not without its mishaps and surprises. As Jake approached an employee to complete his first task, the program on his phone that speaks for him was not communicating loud enough. Jake used his problem solving skills to increase the volume so that she could hear it. His next task involved finding a male employee to interact with. As it turns out the male employee he chose had a hearing impairment and was unable to hear the program on Jake’s phone. In order to overcome this unexpected experience, Jake typed out what he was looking for and showed it to the employee for him to read.
After this, it was time to head to Starbucks, armed with a few drink orders. Jake approached the counter, read the menu and decided what he wanted to order. He typed out his choice along with the others that we requested and the barista went to work. In the car ride back to school, Jake sipped his smoothie and answered my questions about how he felt the experience went. The most prominent message though, was one that he expressed non-verbally through the big smile on his face.
At Jacob’s Ladder we prioritize experiential learning that often involves our students going out of their comfort zone in order to reach their goals. As a mental health practitioner I am so appreciative of the supportive environment that allows for experimentation and creative solutions. Jake’s experience is just one example of the many ways our students push themselves each day and show us the limitless bounds of their growth.
-Katy Miles, LMSW
Katy is a mental health practitioner at Jacob’s Ladder. She provides individual mental health services to a number of our students and facilitates a monthly sibling support group as well as a body awareness program called Bodies, Relationships, and Boundaries. If you are interested in mental health services for your child or their sibling, please contact Jaclyn Rhodes at firstname.lastname@example.org