‘Knot at the end of the rope’: Developmental Center puts the ‘sweet’ in home for intellectually disabled

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Guy Thompson is the superintendent at the Developmental Center in American Fork. But his favorite title is “friend” to residents such as Ann, Troy and Nathan. Activities for the intellectually challenged adults include growing plants in and around an on-site greenhouse.

Guy Thompson is the superintendent at the Developmental Center in American Fork. But his favorite title is “friend” to residents such as Ann, Troy and Nathan. Activities for the intellectually challenged adults include growing plants in and around an on-site greenhouse.

In the 1980s, Guy Thompson made a living by going to the circus four times a week and living on popcorn and Diet Coke.

As a nurse at the Developmental Center in American Fork, his job in part was to provide recreation for the intellectually impaired residents. After eight years at the campus, he was ready for the next step on his career ladder, which led him to be the director of nursing for a hospital in Idaho Falls. After a decade he went to California and then came back to Utah to be the head nurse at the trauma unit at the University of Utah Hospital.

Being a critical care nurse for 20 straight years took its toll — especially after having a front row seat to a particularly gruesome family car accident that took the life of the mother. Guy asked himself when he had the most fun in his nursing career. That question brought him back to the “training center” across from Mount Timpanogos LDS hospital, where 650 employees take care of 220 residents, the majority of whom are men with autism. Guy took a pay cut but got a raise in satisfaction and love.

“These people share with absolutely no strings attached,” Guy says.

And he shares himself with them by knowing their names and celebrating their personalities.
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“We’re the knot at the end of the rope for families. Many of our people have done damage to their homes.” 

– Guy Thompson, superintendent

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One particular resident stopped by Guy’s office every week and asked Guy to buy him a soda. When this resident passed away, Guy spoke at his funeral.

“I just got a raise of 50 cents a week,” Guy said at the funeral as he explained his soda tradition. He speaks at a funeral nearly every month.

Many of the residents knew Guy in the 1980s and are still living at the facility, including one man who has called the Developmental Center home for 56 years.

“We’re the knot at the end of the rope for families,” Guy says. “Many of our people have done damage to their homes or beat up their parents. They can’t live in society.”

Unfortunately, the need for this type of facility is growing, with 1 in 37 boys born in Utah having autism. Sixty percent of the residents also have epilepsy, and 30 percent are wheelchair-bound. The residents have a broad spectrum of challenges, including medical and behavioral issues. But that doesn’t stop the community from engaging with these low-IQ but high-EQ individuals. The American Fork High School baseball team came up and hit the ball around at the Developmental Center. Local LDS youth groups come every Sunday and Wednesday to help with worship services and activities.

And once a year, Guy himself invites people to campus for a Halloween tour.

“We have several stories of benevolent hauntings,” Guy says. “I take people from building to building and tell them stories about our residents returning — and sometimes teasing us in various ways.”

For example, one time Guy was working an all-night shift and kept hearing two little girls running down the hallway. He followed after them, but turn after turn, he never found them. There were no girls in the building.

Another mischievous resident liked to trick the employees, including hiding in the janitor’s closet for up to an hour and knocking chairs off tables when the workers were mopping. After her passing, chairs have been known to fall of the table randomly.

“This has been home for hundreds of people,” Guy says. “They have a happy time here, even though their bodies and minds are challenged. We are a family.”

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Kate Lehnhof Nash first joined Bennett Communications as a summer intern in 2009. Now, as an associate editor, she writes for magazines including Utah Valley Magazine, Utah Valley Bride and Prosper. Kate lives in Springville with her husband Steve and enjoys running, reading, sushi and her french bulldog, Chief.

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