Raffi’s Story: His Neighbourhood Network
Raffi has sounds he uses for words, mostly single syllables, and he also uses symbols and gestures to communicate. Raffi recognizes about 50 typed words (in one inch font) and uses a voice output device. The device is awkward to manage when he is physically active, like when he is riding his bike. So just how did Raffi communicate with the three boys when he fell?
Maria and her family live in a very inclusive school district and even though the boys who helped Raffi didn’t know him, she believes inclusion in schools is a reason they were so comfortable communicating with someone who didn’t use speech. By attending schools that include a diverse population of students, these three boys became part of an unplanned, informal network of support for Raffi in his own neighbourhood.
Maria has also been intentional about building a supportive community around their family. She knows her son has grown up around people who welcome and value him and he has been able to develop the confidence he needs to communicate with people. However, Maria says that his confidence is still a work in progress.
Raffi is a very social person who enjoys being in the middle of the action. He is very musical like his father’s side of the family and has an innate sense of rhythm. In the music room in their home, Raffi often plays the drums, accompanying songs that are programmed in a keyboard. He has favourite groups, the “Backstreet Boys” being one, and he will play the Michael Bublé song “Home” repeatedly. Raffi has loved little toy cars since he was very young. He enjoys the feel of the hard texture of the cars and usually has one clutched in his hand. Each night he arranges about 20 toy cars on his bed before he goes to sleep.
His family’s involvement in church has become a great safeguard for Raffi. Maria and her family moved from San Francisco to their current home when Raffi was three years old. When they first arrived, Maria didn’t have friends or extended family around and became very involved with a church. Maria, along other parents in the church, started a children’s program, including a children’s service. The program evolved over the years and Raffi has grown up with people from their church community. Raffi was eventually invited to join the church choir – he provides the rhythm by playing the conga. Maria says the church members are still a key part of both her and Raffi’s support system.
Maria’s efforts to create a network of people in Raffi’s life were aided by his relationships with peers. During his high school years, Raffi attended a community program called, “Let’s Play.” The program was initiated by a group of students at the school who organized an hour of time at the local community centre gymnasium. They assisted peers with special needs to participate in sporting activities of their choice. The high school recognized their volunteer hours and students with special needs were welcomed from all over the city. Raffi’s network grew significantly in those four years and at 23, he still encounters friends from “Let’s Play” when he is out and about in the community.
Raffi’s involvement with their church became a springboard to opportunities in the broader community. Raffi’s first work experience began with doing chores in and around the church. Through those jobs, Maria learned that he was most successful with tasks that allowed him to be physically active. Raffi now enjoys a seasonal job at a golf course. He is able to fulfill his love of cars by driving the golf cart around the course while he sweeps the tee boxes. He is a valued member of the staff team at the golf course and is included in all the staff events.
Acceptance and belonging are big motivators for Raffi. It’s really important to Raffi to look “cool” (Maria says he can be rather vain!). He cares about his appearance, likes to be neat and tidy and dress according to what he is doing. If he is going out to play basketball, he wears his jersey and basketball cap. If it’s baseball, he gathers all the paraphernalia that goes with baseball. And if he is playing his conga in the choir, he’ll dress in nicer clothes.
Raffi wakes up a happy person, but that can change when he feels he isn’t understood or appreciated – he can then become quite frustrated or sad. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen very often. Wherever Raffi goes, people say “hi,” often tell him how good he looks and share other kind words. He spends his days among family, neighbours, co-workers and friends where he truly belongs.
Raffi and his family will be celebrating the launch of “The Power of Knowing Each Other” at an event on Sunday, October 23 from 1:00pm to 4:00pm at the Richmond Arts Centre. The event will feature musical performances as well as Raffi signing copies of the book for guests.
For more information on the event, please visit www.communitylivingbc.ca and go to the CLBC Events Calendar under What’s New > Events.