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Pat Sutheard

Understanding is the Key


“In the neurodiversity world, you’ve got to be understanding.”

“I’ve just always enjoyed helping… I guess you would call the underdogs, the kids who need it,” says paraprofessional Pat Sutheard. But “help” doesn’t even really begin to describe what she does for those with whom she works.

Pat grew up in Pawnee, but has been a Waverly resident since 1995. Her three children, now 25, 27, and 30, all attended Waverly schools. She believes that one of the most notable strengths of the community is the way its members stand behind each other. “You see a lot of people coming together in times of need,” she notes.

She also likes being able to live in the country, where it’s quiet and she has room for her four dogs, two cats, some chickens and ducks, and three turkeys – a mom, a dad and a hatchling. “They’re my favorite,” she confesses with a grin.

As an individual aide, Pat works one-on-one with a single student, often for years at a time. For example, she relates that she worked with one student for thirteen years - their entire school career. She acknowledges that after working so closely together, for such a long time, it can be hard to say goodbye. But knowing that there are many others who also need her help makes it easier.

She has always been a one-on-one aide, and is there alongside the student throughout the day to provide whatever support they need to thrive in whatever learning environment they find themselves in. The work is challenging, but equally rewarding, and demands that she put to use a wide range of skills and talents. Many of the students with whom she works are nonverbal, so she must help facilitate communication. Wheelchair-bound children might need to be lifted in and out of their chairs, and students may require help at meal times with tube feeding. “You are with that student pretty much from bell to bell,” she says.

Among those myriad skills and talents that she possesses, one stands out as more important than the rest. “Patience is number one. And understanding. In the neurodiversity world, you’ve got to be understanding,” she says. Understanding is key, because it is not uncommon for people to be uncomfortable, or even frightened of the kids she works with because they don’t know what to say or do, or how that child might react to them. So, to Pat, the more and better we can all understand one another, the less we will fear each other. “In the neurodiversity world, you’ve got to be understanding.”

Maybe it’s this yearning for understanding that compels Pat to indulge in the true crime shows and police procedural dramas that she loves to watch. Much like the forensic technicians and detectives learn about and come to understand the perpetrator of a crime and eventually solve the case, perhaps if we learned about our neighbors and came to understand them better, we could solve a lot of societal problems. All it really takes is to follow Pat’s example: take it one person at a time, help as much as you are able, and above all, exercise patience.

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