Herald JournalHerald Journal, April 21, 2003

Nelson named caretaker of the year in Minnesota

By Lynda Jensen

Working with autistic clients appears to be the gift of Josh Nelson, a para-professional at the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted school district ­ a gift that gave him the honor of caretaker of the year in Minnesota recently.

The honor came as a surprise, as did being named caretaker of the year for Wright County, since he has been working with autistic clients for about only two years, he said.

Nelson works at REM in Buffalo, spending five days per week doing therapy with Tom Holahan, 25, of Annandale.

Holahan has limited speech and a different kind of autism, requiring Nelson to write on a spelling board for most communication.

His autism also affects Holahan's physical health, since his joints get stiff, and he has a tendency to rock to one side to sustain his balance, Nelson said.

If Holahan becomes excited, he might make sudden outbursts as well.

The two go Roller Blading, take walks, bike, play basketball ­ all kinds of fun activities as part of Holahan's therapy, Nelson said.

Nelson took lifeguard training so that Holahan can go swimming this summer.

Nelson also works with an autistic fourth grade student at HLWW.

He will be honored May 15 at the Radisson Hotel during a banquet ceremony sponsored by the Association of Residential Resources in Minnesota, which offers the award. Nelson was nominated by REM.

The most exciting part is seeing good changes in people from working with them, Nelson said.

Previously, Holahan needed physical therapy every week; this is down to every other week.

Before, it was hard to visit public places, but this is changed now, and Holahan can visit a restaurant with little trouble, Nelson said.

"He's really changed a lot," Nelson said.

"It takes a ton of patience," Nelson said.

But touching the lives of young people is so precious, he said. "I would like to change their lives."

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