The the media. Hence, I did not know

The sessions I had spent
volunteering at the Asian Women Welfare Association Student Special Care Centre
(AWWA SSCC) have definitely been a wonderful but at the same time, a meaningful
experience. AWWA SSCC caters to children aged 7 to 18 years, who have Autism
Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or an intellectual or physical disability (AWWA Ltd,
2017). The children I worked with were aged ten to twelve, ranging from ASD to
children 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 on
socialization, particularly teaching the children to wait for their turns as
well as to share. Over the ten sessions, we tried to reinforce our objectives
by carrying out different activities. I will be using the DEAL Model by Ash and
Clayton (2009) to further elaborate my learning and reflection.

One experience that I remember
is my first day at AWWA SSCC. During the first session, we merely observed the
lesson the teacher had planned out for them, which was arts and craft using
paint and scotch tape. The teacher had asked us to attach ourselves to one
child and help the child if we needed to. Prior to the session, I always
thought that it would be difficult to communicate with people with intellectual
disabilities. As I did not know much about them personally, my perception was
of them was mainly what I have heard from other people and the media. Hence, I
did not know much about how to communicate with them or if there was any
difference in the first place. Thus, I was hesitant in interacting with the
children at first and was quickly disheartened when I tried to talk with them
but was rejected.

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However, I quickly realised if
I just gave up without trying, then there was no point to the entire
volunteering experience. So, I tried to watch what my friends were doing right
and tried to copy them. For example, I saw that they were bending down to the
child’s eye level instead of talking while standing up. The teacher also
offered to give a few pointers like holding their hands while they paint so
that 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 basic
knowledge but might not be enough to prepare you. After looking at my friends
as well as listening to the teacher’s advice, I decided to try to the hand-over-hand
prompting. Even though it took some time for the child, he eventually let me
assist him and started to seem to enjoy the activity more.

I realised how important
first-hand experiences were dispelling doubts and stigma about others. When we
hear about people with intellectual disabilities, we only understand everything
from the perspective of an audience. However, by directly engaging with them,
we would be able to understand more about their challenges first-hand. After I
followed 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 interact
with them. Even though judging others is natural, it is important to overcome
these biases. I learned that first impression might not be accurate in all
cases. I learned this when I found that my initial fear of interacting with the
children was irrational once I knew what I could do. This learning matters as
it made me understand that first-hand experiences are crucial is decreasing
stigmas against people with intellectual disabilities. In light of this
learning, I will put aside any biases I have against people with disabilities
in general as it only serves a boundary for more understanding between people.

Besides developing my personal
growth, I also had experiences that made me look at the bigger picture. For
example, during our fourth session, we planned to carry out our second
activity, 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 idea
as we did not how a simple activity was going to help the children. In spite of
that, we conducted the activity, where we made the children share the bottles
of Kaya and Nutella as well as wait for their turns to use the spoons and
cookie cutters.

After the session, the teacher
explained to us that she wanted the children to learn skills needed for
everyday living, such as how to prepare a simple breakfast like sandwiches. Some
of the aims of AWWA SSCC is to “enrich each child’s quality of life through
various 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 children
with skills that will be useful for the future, besides providing emotional
care and support for them. Hence, AWWA SSCC hopes youth with intellectual
disabilities will be able to independent in taking care of themselves. While we
plan activities where engaging the children is our main focus, we tend to lose
sight that the main goal is to help the children.

Hence, to increase such civic
awareness, especially in the youth, I believe that long-term social service
projects are essential. In schools when we learn about people with
disabilities, we learn mostly at face-value. We can only sympathise yet very
few are able to think from their point of view or know of possible solutions to
help. To facilitate a more well-rounded learning, school service-learning
programs has to become a feature of education. Furthermore, youth who
participate in service activities are more likely to be engaged in the
community and develop a long-lasting sense of civic responsibility, as well as
develop skills and gain experience as they contribute to the community (Centre
for the Study of Social Policy, 2011). Thus, it is important to implement
service-learning as they will be able to serve the community while gaining
valuable skills and experiences on the way.

I learned that the knowledge
and skills we learn in classes should eventually be used on a larger scale to
help the community. I learned this when I realised that the activities we
implement should focus on helping the children gain skills for their future,
and not focus on just being fun and engaging. This learning matters to me
because it shows me the reality that whatever we learn in class is important
and that I am not learning it just because it is a module I have to take. In
light of this learning, I will think from the perspective of a person working
in the social service sector and do my best in future service-learning
projects.

Lastly, the volunteering
experience has definitely given me an opportunity to apply what I have learned
in class in real-life situations. For example, in our second evaluation, we
decided to carry out station games such taking turns to throw a ball into a
hoop and playing a game where you have to share the balloon. We had believed
that the games would engage the children but at the same time reinforce sharing
and 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 be
easily bored and hence, easily distracted. In the end, the entire activity
almost ended in a mess and we had a difficult time trying to get them to focus
again.

The teachers had to step in to
help us get the children to refocus back on the activity. When they implemented
some tactics to help the children, we were surprised that we actually forgot
about what we had learned in class. For example, we verbally told the children
where 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 difficulties
with following verbal instructions. Unlike sitting in a chair in a classroom
setting, which serves as a clear physical boundary, open spaces do not have
clearly demarcated seating or standing positions (Lim & Lam, 2004). Hence,
the teachers used cones and hula hoops to visually show where are the
boundaries. This resulted in the children being calmer and started to stand
still. Furthermore, they also provided options for the children instead of
forcing them to do the activity. According to Ee, Tan, & Lim, L (2004),
“providing choice in learning can increase motivation, decrease problem
behaviours, sustain attention and improve overall learning”. For example, one
of the children did not want to participate in the activity, the teacher gave
him options of playing another game or sitting out from the activities. In the
end, he chose to play another game with one of us.

Hence, even though the
learning taught in classrooms are adequate, it ultimately depends on the
individuals and whether they apply the knowledge in real-life situations. In my
case, we overlooked the importance of such techniques as the children had been
obedient for the past few sessions. Hence, I think we expected them to behave
the same way. We also did not take into account of the change of location, and
how 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 the
message to the child, rather than the content of the activity. Through this
experience, I learned that even though learning in-theory and real-life
experiences are different, it is still important as it prepares you to carry
out actions. I learned this when I realised we missed out key skills that were
taught in classes. This learning matters as it made me realise that lessons we
go through preparing us for the real-life situations. In light of this
learning, I will not overlook any skills or knowledge I have learned as it will
prove useful in the future.

Overall, the ten sessions have
provided me with invaluable experiences and skills. Even though was quite
apprehensive about volunteering with children with intellectual disabilities, I
have come to realise that the fear and doubt gave way to greater understanding
of them. I never did understand the importance of service-learning until now.
However, after this experience and after seeing how happy I feel seeing the
children 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 am
definitely more interested in the serving the social service sector. 

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