Olga’s Reflections: What You Learn As a Skilled Volunteer
These two weeks in Hyderabad have been such a wonderful experience. It’s been an opportunity to share some of our skills and training with the team at the learning centre for children with autism, and hopefully to begin a long term partnership between them and the Owl Therapy Centre in the UK.
Madhavi, the founder, is such an inspiration, and the driving force behind this venture. Always pushing boundaries and challenging the current systems, she is so enthusiastic about retraining the staff and parents to embrace a fully child-led, fun therapy style.
The Benefits of Volunteer Inductions
I was grateful for the day we spent initially observing the way therapy was already being delivered in the centre. This was so crucial in terms of recognising the areas that required the most support, so that we could tailor our training accordingly. It soon became clear that our biggest challenge would be moving away from the directive ‘teaching’ style, as well as empowering the team to implement and consistently use a Total Communication Approach, including visuals for schedules and transitions, Makaton signing as well as the spoken word throughout the day. I found this induction time to be very important.
The cultural differences have been interesting. We observed a system of hierarchy, where people expect to be told what to do. We were told that it is very unlikely that we will be challenged by the staff. We tend to work more co-operatively in the UK. So we have needed to ask directly if they understand, or if anything isn’t clear.
Personal and Professional Development
Having two small children, I was so worried about leaving them for two weeks. I have learned that they, and my husband, can cope very well without me! Our Skype connection has often been poor, but we have made do with what we have, and have managed to speak, even for a short time, every day. Time away to focus on my own professional development has been great, and I am so excited to see them again with renewed enthusiasm!
Cultural Immersion and Understanding Local Environments
It is always shocking to see families and children living in poverty, and so sad to hear about the plight of local farmers in Hyderabad, many of whom have been forced to take their families and labour in the city just to make enough money to eat. Many of these families are homeless. I go home with a greater appreciation of just how lucky my family and I are to have all that we have.
The Future of Staff Training
I am conscious that Madhavi and the team now face the challenge of embedding and implementing these new techniques on an ongoing basis. We would always recommend starting with the environment: visual systems including a schedule for each child that they are encouraged to revisit throughout the day and take ownership for, keyrings for all staff with photos of all of the rooms for easing anxiety related to transitions, Makaton signing and a Total Communication Approach. In addition, we have discussed the importance of providing sensory play experiences for these children: from sand and water, play dough and glitter, to having bubbles and ‘crazy soap’ in every practitioner’s tool kit!
The staff at the centre have been working hard already: staying after work to make more pictures and symbols, and trying to use these with the children. More schedules are being used to prepare children for daily activities. We hope that, once there is an increase in sensory related and motivating activities available for children, the rest will follow and the team will see the power of being child-led.