By Carol McCracken
For Julian Saintlaurent patience is not just a virtue, but a necessity to succeed in his job. Julian works for an agency that is state funded to manage group homes in the Portland area for people with autisism. Julian is also a very articulate 24 year old with seemingly natural communication skills.
Julian was sitting in a chair near the front door of the North Star Café placing tiny red ink drops on a blank page in the “community journal” when he caught the attention of the MHN. He visit’s the Café often and works on the community journal, he said. Either Julian was creating a new psychological diagnostic tool or killing time, MHN thought. At this point it wasn’t clear. After he’d filled a page with red dots, a friend of his drew green stems and leaves under the red dots. Quite lovely, really.
Julian has devoted the last six years of his 24 year life working in a group home for autistic teenagers. Chronologically the teenagers are between the ages of 17 – 19 years old. Developmentally they are about 2 years old. The job takes a lot of patience and communication skills he said. That’s because “I have to talk to non-verbal kids,” he said. “I have to understand my own inner thought process and how I would feel put in their shoes. That helps me understand their needs. That’s the difficulty. They can’t relay their needs.”
If you work hard at it, you are going to get burned out, he says. So occasionally he takes a break from his responsibilities, but always returns. “These teenagers will have at least 500 caregivers during their lifetimes. People come and go in their lives. So consistency is important.” Perhaps that’s part of the reason he keeps returning to their lives after a break. However, this time is different. Many of his original teenagers have left this phase of the program. It might be time for him to move on as well. “I feel good about what I’ve done here. Even if I don’t come back, I leave with a good feeling.” he says smiling.
Julian aspires to be an art therapist. But other than that his plans are incomplete. Ceramics are his form of art. One thing is for certain, however. Whatever he does, he has the prequisite skills for success; patience and good communication skills.