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Things to remember when you work as a volunteer with disabled children

In India, there are thousands of NGO's and schools that empower and reach out to adults and children with disabilities. But do all these institutions have trained and professional staffs to manage children? For most of the institutions, the answer would be a no. In fact, reports over the years have pointed out that many staffs are untrained to handle children with disabilities while some of them work out of compassion towards children.

Nowadays, many youngsters are joining NGO's and schools for disabled children as volunteers. This is a great way of practicing and putting into use one's social skills and at the same time learning many new things. When you volunteer for a disabled child, there are numerous things to keep in mind. To begin with, they need special attention, patience and lots of understanding. Some of them might even be non-verbal. You must understand all that and reach out to them accordingly.

Shakila Banu, who is the Co-Founder of JDC Sparsha, an inclusive school in Bengaluru says that volunteers must be extremely sensitive to needs of disabled children.

In India, there are two categories of youngsters who volunteer for disabled children. One category is where they attend the programme for time pass. They just want a certificate mentioning that they have completed so many hours of work or internship. The other category genuinely cares and works with disabled children. You must be extremely supportive, helpful, observant and interactive with children to become a good volunteer. This is going to be a two way learning process where both parties benefit-Shakila Banu, Co-Founder, JDC Sparsha

Planning to volunteer with disabled children? We have some tips for you.

  • Consistency matters- When it comes to children with disabilities, consistency are the key to successfully managing them. They need to follow strict schedules and do things in a pattern. When you give them a set of rules to follow, make sure that they do it without fail regularly. You must also ensure that you do not keep changing rules for them. Children with autism or other cognitive issues will find it extremely difficult if routines keep changing for them.
  • Stay positive- Children with disabilities need a lot of positivity in their lives. The society already looks down upon them in many ways. So it is important that you spread love and light into their lives. It doesn't matter whether you are new to volunteering disabled children. You can just enter their lives and spread happiness and positivity with your words and actions.
  • Observation is the key- For a disabled child, especially someone with a developmental disorder, any form of action and behaviour is a form of communication. It is extremely important to observe and analyse each child if you want to really reach out to them. The requirements of each child are different. Most of the times, teachers will not be able to channelize their attention to children. But volunteers can do that. Observe each child and know how you can help to empower them.
  • Interact with the child- Sometimes, interacting with a disabled child can be different from how you interact with other children. But the fact is, there is no special training required for that. In most of the institutions for disabled children, teacher and the child do not interact on a one-on-one basis. This is one of the biggest mistakes. As a volunteer, you can make sure the child interacts with you. This helps to enhance their communication, cognitive and social skills.

Vidushi Jayswal is the Core Volunteer with Smileys NGO that empowers and reaches out to disabled children and adults through art.

"Volunteers need to be more empathetic and not sympathetic. Do not ask too many questions to the child. More importantly, ask before you offer the child any help. The requirement of each child is different. They have their own needs and interests as well. Volunteers must respect them, says Jayswal.

ALSO READ: Some tips for caregivers of people with disabilities

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