The sessions I had spentvolunteering at the Asian Women Welfare Association Student Special Care Centre(AWWA SSCC) have definitely been a wonderful but at the same time, a meaningfulexperience.
AWWA SSCC caters to children aged 7 to 18 years, who have AutismSpectrum Disorder (ASD), or an intellectual or physical disability (AWWA Ltd,2017). The children I worked with were aged ten to twelve, ranging from ASD tochildren with Down Syndrome as well as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder(ADHD). As part of our proposal idea, my team members and I decided to focus onsocialization, particularly teaching the children to wait for their turns aswell as to share. Over the ten sessions, we tried to reinforce our objectivesby carrying out different activities. I will be using the DEAL Model by Ash andClayton (2009) to further elaborate my learning and reflection. One experience that I rememberis my first day at AWWA SSCC. During the first session, we merely observed thelesson the teacher had planned out for them, which was arts and craft usingpaint and scotch tape.
The teacher had asked us to attach ourselves to onechild and help the child if we needed to. Prior to the session, I alwaysthought that it would be difficult to communicate with people with intellectualdisabilities. As I did not know much about them personally, my perception wasof them was mainly what I have heard from other people and the media. Hence, Idid not know much about how to communicate with them or if there was anydifference in the first place. Thus, I was hesitant in interacting with thechildren at first and was quickly disheartened when I tried to talk with thembut was rejected. However, I quickly realised ifI just gave up without trying, then there was no point to the entirevolunteering experience.
So, I tried to watch what my friends were doing rightand tried to copy them. For example, I saw that they were bending down to thechild’s eye level instead of talking while standing up. The teacher alsooffered to give a few pointers like holding their hands while they paint sothat it is easier to direct them back to the activity when they get distracted.I learned that studying theories in classroom settings can only give you basicknowledge but might not be enough to prepare you.
After looking at my friendsas well as listening to the teacher’s advice, I decided to try to the hand-over-handprompting. Even though it took some time for the child, he eventually let meassist him and started to seem to enjoy the activity more. I realised how importantfirst-hand experiences were dispelling doubts and stigma about others.
When wehear about people with intellectual disabilities, we only understand everythingfrom the perspective of an audience. However, by directly engaging with them,we would be able to understand more about their challenges first-hand. After Ifollowed the teacher’s advice, I was better able to communicate with the child,I realised that after the initial challenge, it was actually easy to interactwith them. Even though judging others is natural, it is important to overcomethese biases. I learned that first impression might not be accurate in allcases. I learned this when I found that my initial fear of interacting with thechildren was irrational once I knew what I could do.
This learning matters asit made me understand that first-hand experiences are crucial is decreasingstigmas against people with intellectual disabilities. In light of thislearning, I will put aside any biases I have against people with disabilitiesin general as it only serves a boundary for more understanding between people. Besides developing my personalgrowth, I also had experiences that made me look at the bigger picture. Forexample, during our fourth session, we planned to carry out our secondactivity, which was to introduce the different emotions through arts and craft.However, the teacher suggested trying to involve food in the activity instead,such as how to make a sandwich. Initially, we were quite sceptical of the ideaas we did not how a simple activity was going to help the children.
In spite ofthat, we conducted the activity, where we made the children share the bottlesof Kaya and Nutella as well as wait for their turns to use the spoons andcookie cutters.After the session, the teacherexplained to us that she wanted the children to learn skills needed foreveryday living, such as how to prepare a simple breakfast like sandwiches. Someof the aims of AWWA SSCC is to “enrich each child’s quality of life throughvarious activities” (AWWA Ltd, 2017). They conduct activities that are”designed to provide opportunities for students to learn daily living skills”(AWWA Ltd, 2017). I realised that AWWA SSCC focuses on equipping the childrenwith skills that will be useful for the future, besides providing emotionalcare and support for them. Hence, AWWA SSCC hopes youth with intellectualdisabilities will be able to independent in taking care of themselves. While weplan activities where engaging the children is our main focus, we tend to losesight that the main goal is to help the children.
Hence, to increase such civicawareness, especially in the youth, I believe that long-term social serviceprojects are essential. In schools when we learn about people withdisabilities, we learn mostly at face-value. We can only sympathise yet veryfew are able to think from their point of view or know of possible solutions tohelp. To facilitate a more well-rounded learning, school service-learningprograms has to become a feature of education. Furthermore, youth whoparticipate in service activities are more likely to be engaged in thecommunity and develop a long-lasting sense of civic responsibility, as well asdevelop skills and gain experience as they contribute to the community (Centrefor the Study of Social Policy, 2011). Thus, it is important to implementservice-learning as they will be able to serve the community while gainingvaluable skills and experiences on the way. I learned that the knowledgeand skills we learn in classes should eventually be used on a larger scale tohelp the community. I learned this when I realised that the activities weimplement should focus on helping the children gain skills for their future,and not focus on just being fun and engaging.
This learning matters to mebecause it shows me the reality that whatever we learn in class is importantand that I am not learning it just because it is a module I have to take. Inlight of this learning, I will think from the perspective of a person workingin the social service sector and do my best in future service-learningprojects. Lastly, the volunteeringexperience has definitely given me an opportunity to apply what I have learnedin class in real-life situations. For example, in our second evaluation, wedecided to carry out station games such taking turns to throw a ball into ahoop and playing a game where you have to share the balloon. We had believedthat the games would engage the children but at the same time reinforce sharingand taking turns. However, in reality, the activities were not so successful.
The station games turned out to be too short and resulted in the children to beeasily bored and hence, easily distracted. In the end, the entire activityalmost ended in a mess and we had a difficult time trying to get them to focusagain. The teachers had to step in tohelp us get the children to refocus back on the activity. When they implementedsome tactics to help the children, we were surprised that we actually forgotabout what we had learned in class. For example, we verbally told the childrenwhere they could and could not be, which turned out not to be so effective.From what we had learned, children with ASD, for example, have difficultieswith following verbal instructions. Unlike sitting in a chair in a classroomsetting, which serves as a clear physical boundary, open spaces do not haveclearly demarcated seating or standing positions (Lim & Lam, 2004).
Hence,the teachers used cones and hula hoops to visually show where are theboundaries. This resulted in the children being calmer and started to standstill. Furthermore, they also provided options for the children instead offorcing them to do the activity. According to Ee, Tan, & Lim, L (2004),”providing choice in learning can increase motivation, decrease problembehaviours, sustain attention and improve overall learning”. For example, oneof the children did not want to participate in the activity, the teacher gavehim options of playing another game or sitting out from the activities.
In theend, he chose to play another game with one of us. Hence, even though thelearning taught in classrooms are adequate, it ultimately depends on theindividuals and whether they apply the knowledge in real-life situations. In mycase, we overlooked the importance of such techniques as the children had beenobedient for the past few sessions. Hence, I think we expected them to behavethe same way.
We also did not take into account of the change of location, andhow the open space might prove to be difficult to contain the children. Hence,to avoid such situations, I would have to think more about how to deliver themessage to the child, rather than the content of the activity. Through thisexperience, I learned that even though learning in-theory and real-lifeexperiences are different, it is still important as it prepares you to carryout actions. I learned this when I realised we missed out key skills that weretaught in classes. This learning matters as it made me realise that lessons wego through preparing us for the real-life situations. In light of thislearning, I will not overlook any skills or knowledge I have learned as it willprove useful in the future.
Overall, the ten sessions haveprovided me with invaluable experiences and skills. Even though was quiteapprehensive about volunteering with children with intellectual disabilities, Ihave come to realise that the fear and doubt gave way to greater understandingof them. I never did understand the importance of service-learning until now.However, after this experience and after seeing how happy I feel seeing thechildren happy, I have understood service-learning is more than just CIP points.I am not sure if I would continue volunteering at the same centre, but I amdefinitely more interested in the serving the social service sector.