The children at Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch often come to us without any volume control. The years they have spent abused, neglected, or misunderstood have broken that "button." Sometimes they are extremely loud and rapid-fire in their speaking...because they needed to hell to be heard, and they had to deliver messages quickly before they were cut off or ignored. Sometimes they are silent and withdrawn, either because they are exhausted from trying to speak up to no avail, or because the punishment they received for speaking silenced them.
In either case, it is an exercise in patience to help them trust that their thoughts are important, that they will be treated with respect, and that they have a right to their own voices. They are also seldom comfortable being the center of attention. The only attention they have known in the past has come with pain or shame.
Recently, I sat in a Core Team meeting for one of our cottages. Core Team meetings focus on one child at a time. The child meets with their primary staff, therapist, occupational therapist, spiritual life specialist, and treatment coordinator to discuss the progress they are making on their treatment goals. Together, they review the goals (the child helped create them), identify progress or obstacles, celebrate successes, dissect setbacks, and make adjustments to move the plan forward. The child is at the meeting and has an equal voice in the discussion. Neither of those things initially come easily to Ranch children.
In this meeting, the child, who is on the autism spectrum and has a lengthy trauma history, struggled to share his thoughts. I watched him as this team of adults surrounded him with support--support and caring he couldn't feel because he had his defenses up. He quietly spun slowly in his chair, avoided all eye contact, and when he did talk he simply said, "This is boring."
The team waited. They know this boy well. They knew he needed time. They did some overview work and kept him alongside their conversation.
Then, his Occupation Therapist talked about how, in one session, she and the child had cooked together. That was the "in." Somehow, in the quiet provided by the team, he was able to recapture the safety and joy he had in that experience. He brought that forward and participated in the rest of the meeting. He drew on that experience to believe he could trust and know this team would help him. It isn't easy and never will be, but the patience of loving professionals opened the door for him to have a voice in his healing.
Sometimes, patience is more than a virtue. Sometimes it is the key.
In His love,
Joy Ryan, President/CEO
Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch
P.S. The Ranch is participating in Giving Hearts Day again this year—and YOU don’t have to wait until Feb. 13 to give. Schedule your gift now at GivingHeartsDay.org.