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Emily’s Special Friend | A Client Spotlight Story

Emily at 2023 PartyPublished January 19, 2024

Between 2:15 and 2:30 pm each afternoon, the tinkling of piano keys can often be heard echoing through the halls of Merrick’s Willow Lake Boulevard site. The notes do not form a clear melody line, and their sparseness may lead visitors to question whether the tinkling sound was just their imagination. Ask any staff member about it, and they will tell you that it’s Emily. Playing the piano is part of her afternoon routine. A routine that was not always so easy to follow.

When Emily first started at Merrick in the summer of 2023, nothing was routine. Being that Emily is non-verbal, uses limited American Sign Language, and had no prior experience at a day program, it proved a challenge for Emily to learn the daily routine. From where to place her personal belongings to when it was time to use the bathroom, none of it came easily at first. Slowly that all changed, in part, thanks to Emily’s new friend, Brooke.

Direct Support Professional Brooke joined the Willow Lake team around the same time that Emily started at Merrick, and it soon became clear that she and Emily had a special connection. While other DSPs relied exclusively on a hand-over-hand teaching style when supporting Emily, Brooke found that simply pointing to or handing her an object would elicit a response. Under Brooke’s direction, Emily would readily play with various wooden activity boards and would eventually develop an interest in playing the piano so much so that it would become part of her daily routine.

Because of their connection, Brooke learned more about Emily than most and got to know the sweet, energetic person that she was. For instance, though Emily is sensitive to sound and will place her hands over her ears, Brooke discovered that she has a secret affinity for 90s music one day when she played New Kids on the Block and noticed Emily perk up. In addition, while Emily has enjoyed many community outings, Brooke quickly realized that her favorite outings were any that involved shopping, not because she liked to shop, but because she liked to push the shopping cart.

Reflecting on Emily’s first 6 months at Merrick, Brooke can say she has noticed definite improvements. When she first arrived, Emily would not carry her own lunch box or backpack, had a penchant for breaking things, and would anxiously pace the floor. Now, not only does Emily not do any of those things, but she looks forward to coming to Merrick every day. However, the work is far from over.

Going forward, Brooke has many goals in mind for Emily to work on and knows the road ahead will not always be smooth or straight. For example, though Emily works well with Brooke, Brooke cannot always be with her, and Emily needs to learn to work with other staff. In addition, Brooke hopes to increase Emily’s knowledge of American Sign Language and is currently teaching her the word for “bathroom.” Brooke would also like to see Emily participate in large group activities someday such as playing with the parachute.

For Emily, learning the daily routine at Willow Lake did not come easily. But she learned it. It just took time, patience, and a special friend. The same can be said for any one of her new goals. To achieve them will not come easily or quickly. But, with friends like Brooke along for the ride, it is not impossible. And that’s all anyone needs to know to pursue it.