“I can read him,” she says.
For Barbara Cabral and her grandson, Zachary, connecting has always been about more than words.
“I’ve been around him a long time. We have our own special way of communicating. I’d say ‘Where do you want to eat?’ Then I’d hold up one finger and say one restaurant. I’d hold up a second finger and say a different restaurant. He’d nod or point for the one he wanted. It was always Burger King.”
Zachary, who’s 22, is nonverbal. From the time he was a child, he and his family have always had to get creative in order to communicate. In the beginning, it was a struggle and a source of deep frustration.
Even hamburgers were off-limits.
“Whenever we had guests over, Zach would hide in his room,” Barbara remembers. “When he’d come home after school, he’d go straight to his room and stay in there for hours.” Even hamburgers were off-limits when it came to experimentation and trying something new. “When we’d go out to eat, his order was always a plain burger, every time.”
For Barbara and her daughter, caring for Zachary has meant making some sacrifices to put his well-being first. Five years ago, Barbara retired from her job early so she could look after Zachary and take some of the burden off his mom’s plate. Their relationship continued to thrive. Then, last year, Zach and his family were greeted with a new opportunity that would change everything.
A Chance to Grow
In early 2019, Zach joined NuPath’s Community Based Day Supports program, where participants are 100% immersed in their communities with day-to-day volunteering and opportunities to participate in local community activities. Suddenly, Zach was out in the community volunteering for non-profits like Meals on Wheels and the Woburn Senior Center. Not long after, he started displaying new interests and a new social presence rarely seen by his family.
“All of the elderly just love Zachary,” says Barbara, speaking of Zach’s experience working at the Woburn Senior Center. “He loves going out and working. He feels like he’s doing something. And he’s come a long way.”
A few weekends ago when Barbara had friends over to eat pizza and play cards, Zach shocked his grandmother by coming out of his room, greeting the guests, and sitting with them to eat and play cards for a few hours. It was a totally new—and very welcome—behavior.
New skills are emerging, too. According to his grandmother, Zach has cultivated a passion and real knack for cooking thanks to the program’s culinary classes. “He loves to cook. The teachers even gave him an electric skillet to use at home.”
And the hamburgers? “Now he requests one with everything on it.”
A Window Into His World
It’s one thing to see her grandson’s transformation whenever he comes home. It’s another to see it in real-time. Thanks to a new mobile app designed specifically for the human services industry, Zach’s mom and grandmother get to follow his activities throughout the day and see him thriving in the community.
The app—called Navigating Life—has given Zach’s family the opportunity to see him in action and see how much he’s enjoying himself. Staff and caregivers who work with Zach share photos and updates about his day with his family on Navigating Life’s private social network. “I love seeing what he’s done,” Barbara says. “The other day they were painting a room and they asked him to paint the entire door himself. I got to see the pictures of him painting. He didn’t wear a smock but he didn’t have a drop of paint on him. He’s that precise.”
“I love seeing what he’s done.”
It’s little moments like these that she’d never gotten to see before, that she now gets to cherish.
Barbara laughs happily. “I love getting to see what he does throughout the day.”