Beyond therapy to rediscover joy

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COEUR d’ALENE — Jon Ball’s work with adults with autism isn’t just about teaching tasks and skills, it’s about helping his clients “regain their joy.”

Ball, an All Ways Caring Home Care worker, has been nationally recognized as a 2022 Direct Support Professional of the Year by the American Network of Community Options and Resources.

Chosen from thousands of nominations, Ball stands out for the work he does to “ensure the people he serves can live meaningful, productive and inclusive lives,” said Ashley Dusa, All Ways Account Coordinator Caring.

Although Ball studied business administration in college, he spent decades working with people with disabilities. His well-developed resume includes 10 years during which Ball and his wife Barbara cared for 17 foster children while living in California. The children placed in the Ball home had varying degrees of disability and it was one of Ball’s first opportunities to work with autistic children.

It inspired him to do extensive research on the subject, he said. And continuous learning is part of Ball’s success.

One of Ball’s clients, Jesse Younkin works with him several days a week. Meeting at 6:20 a.m. most days, they start at the Kroc Center for a six-mile ride on a stationary bike, a one-mile walk, and various other exercises.

Younkin has lost 40 pounds since he started working with Ball three years ago. They also work together tending two rows in a community garden, growing broccoli, leeks and a variety of wildflowers.

“It teaches them so much,” Ball said. “So much grounding and interacting with the vibrations of nature.”

Ball teaches her clients meditation techniques. It uses methods such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), a commonly used therapy for people with autism who may need help with communication, motor skills, or sensory processing. ABA therapy breaks goals down into very small steps that are then “organized into a logical order and taught one small step at a time,” according to Caravel Autism Health in Coeur d’Alene.

A strong proponent of using music for therapeutic purposes, Ball said it can “inculcate focus, calmness and the ability to create the life they desire”. He encourages each client to develop a positive and healthy “understanding of themselves”. Drumming circles are a favorite way to incorporate music therapy, he said.

Viewing each client as a valuable and unique individual, Ball said he “experiences the essence of people” and teaches them to “search for the light” they have within.

“When you start expressing the light, that’s when you know you’ve got it,” Ball said. “I see Jesse as a light and it transfers.”

“I love seeing my clients blossom and become more independent,” Ball said.

Most of Ball’s clients have “language barriers,” he said. He teaches and provides his clients with “alternative ways to communicate their needs”.

For example, one client was “so sensitive to sound” that he threw objects at those around him. Ball provided him with a “quiet please” card. This allowed him to communicate clearly and effectively what he needed and calmed his aggressive behavior. The client’s mother told Ball that this small difference changed the way their whole family related to each other, he said.

“I look for meaningful clues and teachable moments,” Ball said.

Ball has worked for All Ways Caring Home Care for five years and has no plans to change careers anytime soon. His wife Barbara was also employed at All Ways Caring, but has since retired.

“I’m honored to be selected as Idaho Direct Professional of the Year this year,” Ball said. “Supporting my clients day in and day out is such rewarding work and it is exciting to be recognized for my hard work as an experienced and trusted caregiver. My clients have different challenges, needs and personalities. But I love having the opportunity to improve the quality of their lives and help them achieve their personal goals.

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