I had not thought about Room 101 for many years. This room changed me. The children who entered 101 every school day taught me how humility, acceptance and giving are our greatest gifts. This past Easter weekend a teenage patient of mine who spoke with smiles and laugher passed away. The joy of his life and the power of his resurrection made me think about Room 101.
In high school I volunteered and worked in a classroom for children with severe cerebral palsy. I became familiar with neuromuscular disorders and all types of assist devices. Tables, chairs, wheelchairs, standing boards, communication devices and all types of adapted feeding equipment became my stock and trade. What I learned most, however, was the power of touch.
We had many visitors to our room. College students often observed. Most visitors watched silently. A few asked questions and almost everyone smiled seemingly overwhelmed by the physical disabilities they saw. I remember one day someone asked me: “Is it hard to work with these children?” I shook my head and went back to feeding a snack to one of my friends.
As an aide my job was to run the changing room and keep all the children clean and dry. Throughout the day I changed diapers and after lunch and snack would spruce them up. I became a master of diapers and bibs. When I told my friends what I did most would say: “I couldn’t do that.”
Throughout college and medical school I continued to work with special needs children. I supervised playgrounds, worked in a daycare and during my last year of medical school taught summer school in a class of special needs children. The children and parents I worked with during these many years taught me more than any book or teacher.
Children with special needs do come into the world wanting to bring sorrow or pity. They do not want us to look away, talk softly and live in the past. They want us to laugh, dance, love and live life with them. I believe they are our greatest teachers and our greatest treasures.