A Hand to Hold
story by Andrea Noall
Haley Smith's sobs echo through the school halls as her tears fall onto an unfinished homework assignment.
Her teaching aide's fingers delicately stroke her hand, in hopes of bringing comfort.
"Shhh, it's going to be okay. You're going to be okay," says teaching aide Megan Ward.
Her cries start to fade as her breathing slows and her smile returns.
From birth, 18-year-old Haley has lived with severe, nonverbal autism and now has the mental ability of a 2-and-a-half-year-old. All her life, Haley has struggled with becoming an independent individual, and she still needs assistance in everyday activities.
"When you've never experienced someone with autism, you have to learn right along with them," says Haley's grandma, Nora Seibert.
Through her studies at Livingston Central High School, Haley learns mathematical, linguistic and communication skills that will benefit her for years to come. Each Wednesday she volunteers at the Paducah Cooperative Ministry. where she completes simple tasks that build her social and job skills.
Through close relationships with teachers and family, Haley has blossomed into a goofy, lovable person. Her grandparents, Nora and Charles Seibert, are her legal guardians who truly shaped her as a person and taught her how to live her life as independently as possible.
Her father, Jeffery Smith, visits every two weeks.
"Haley has always been a daddy's girl," Nora says. "You can easily tell who the favorite is when he's around."
Communicating is a huge problem for Haley. She becomes easily upset and frustrated, and is unable to tell others what is troubling her. But Haley has a large support system that comes to her aid when she needs comforting. Simple gestures such as rubbing her back, hands, neck and fingers instantly soothes her and softens her cries.
"She is just an experience," says Charles Seibert. "You just have to experience Haley."