Kate Westhoven '17 applied what she’s learned as a music education major as an intern at the North Dakota Autism Center.
Westhoven sat on a cushy mat at the bottom of a big yellow slide. A client of about 3 years old slid down and she caught him. This group was the little stars, the youngest group of clients at the North Dakota Autism Center (NDAC), where Westhoven interned during the summer.
Another client tried climbing up the wrong part of the slide. “Ladder,” Westhoven said in a firm but encouraging tone, then “Good job using the ladder!” she cheered.
Program Coordinator Emily Henrikson said Westhoven grew more confident with herself and was enthusiastic from the start.
“She jumped in with the clients right away, learning everyone’s names,” Henrikson said.
Westhoven was surprised at how quickly she bonded with some of the clients but said that is key.
“If you want them to listen and if you want to be there for them, having that relationship with them is absolutely 100 percent key in order to be able to have any further productivity or fun,” Westhoven said.
For Westhoven, it was the people who made the experience.
“It’s hard work, but I thoroughly enjoyed working with the incredible staff and clients,” she said. “They’re all great people.”
Two of the staff, Cherae Reeves ’15 and Kelsey Ott ’14, are recent Cobber graduates.
The experience was invaluable for Westhoven, who is going into music education, one of the first areas of integration for those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
“There are only so many articles you can read. These clients aren’t articles,” she said. “So there’s nothing but hands-on experience that can get you where you need to be.”
She worked to incorporate music into a lesson plan at NDAC and said Concordia’s education department puts a lot of emphasis on diverse classrooms and having new experiences.
“They always emphasize getting out of your comfort zone in the education classrooms and being able to go out, explore, BREW (Becoming Responsibly Engaged in the World),” Westhoven said.
And she was BREWing at NDAC. For her, the best part was getting to know the clients and rejoicing with them when they expressed themselves in a healthy way.
“When they have a good day, it’s the best day. And I come home so happy,” she said.
A key moment for her was during a game of hangman when one client made the answer a compliment to another client. With Westhoven’s encouragement, this client began writing compliments for all of their classmates and teachers – enough to cover an entire wall. On that day, Westhoven said she felt so happy that she posted on Facebook: “It’s a good day to be a teacher” with a photo of the client’s compliment, “I like Kate.”
“Oh, it’s so great. It’s the best job ever, honestly,” she said. “I love my job so much.”