‘Guardian angel’ of inspiration

Sara Petersen

Student helps care for girl with autism

Sophomore nursing major Christine Deogracias. Brittany Ankrom | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Sophomore nursing major Christine Deogracias sees a picture of herself and the young girl she works with every time she flips her phone open.

She works 10 hours a week keeping Sojana Palacas, an 11-year-old girl with autism, from hitting herself.

But even though it’s her job, Deogracias says it feels like she’s just hanging out with Sojana.

“You get a personal connection to her,” she said. “Her parents call me her big sister and they call me her guardian angel because I take care of her so much.”

Sojana has to be held all the time – her parents even hold her as she’s sleeping. Sometimes, Deogracias does “deep pressure,” in the form of a bear hug, to calm her down.

“Deep pressure is when you squeeze them and it calms down the nervous system,” Deogracias said.

It takes two people to feed Sojana, as one person has to restrain her while the other feeds her.

Deogracias said she is going to start working out because Sojana is getting so strong.

“She can wiggle her hands out of your wrists to hit herself,” Deogracias said. “You have to grab her hand before she hits herself in the head.”

Deogracias said she volunteered at Whole Child Therapy in Akron for high school. She was only required to work 20 hours, but volunteered 50 hours and was eventually hired by Whole Child. Later, the care center closed down, and Sojana’s parents hired her.

“Her parents trusted me,” Deogracias said. “They are really picky about who they chose to work with their daughter because she hits herself constantly, so they thought I could handle it.”

Deogracias lives in an apartment in Kent and makes the nearly 30 minute drive to Akron to be with Sojana.

“I like helping them,” she said. “Sometimes I don’t like getting paid from them because it feels like I’m taking their money. I have fun doing it.”

Contact features correspondent Sara Petersen at [email protected].