After a short time of volunteering at the School for Autistic Children, I realize that this is the wrong place for me to be. It is a good school with a great purpose, but I am not able to really help these children. I have observed their music class, one on one therapy class, and gym class. However since these children are autistic, they are having an extremely hard time getting comfortable with me. Even the teachers have a hard time in class and they have been teaching the child for months or years. It makes me wish that I was a doctor or therapist so I could help them! At the same time, the parents are always by their child’s side and there are a lot teachers constantly helping at this school. I feel like this school does not necessarily need anymore help. The building is not the best quality but they seem to have everything they need and I was almost more of a distraction by being there.
This school is just always showing me how great they are and how much they help the autistic children. That is wonderful!! But so far I feel like the owner has been enjoying practicing his basic English with me while the children are in their classes. Each day I have been waiting for the opportunity to help but I just seem to do less each day. I have tried playing with the kids and conversing with ones that are not as severe but it is still extremely difficult and they are always playing with their parents or being carried around. Since I am not that helpful, I decided to find somewhere else to give my assistance.
I would say it was a great experience because I got to see how a different culture interacts with their autistic children. Because mental and physical disabilities were looked down on for a long time in China (and even still is), they are not as experienced as some schools in other areas of the world (such as the United States). I did not agree with some of their exercises for the children, but there is no way for me to change the way their teachers do things. At the same time, I am no expert at all on autism.
I talked with the Keats School and they immediately understood my observations. When I expressed to them that I wanted to find a place where I could give more help, they said that I could volunteer at an elderly home. What they said next surprised me! They told me that most people do not like to work with the elderly in China and thought I wouldn’t be willing to do that work. One reason is because they are old and many people like to work with children. Also the conditions in which the elders live are really bad and many are not very clean. That is why they sent me to the School for Autistic Children. If many people do not want to do this then I REALLY (I cannot emphasis REALLY enough) want to volunteer there. I was a little disappointed that the Keats School did not give me all my options in the first place. But here is something that I have seen several times in the Chinese culture – they do not always want you to see the worst of the worst and they want to make sure that “Westerners” are as comfortable as possible. So it was all out of good intentions.
Below is an extremely great video that Dr. Ronnie Littlejohn showed in one of my classes. It gives a little information on the elderly and elderly homes in China.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MkBk0rU8Ec (I was able to find a paid secure server that allows me to view blocked sites in China)
BUT LET ME JUST SAY, the elderly home I went to see today is NOTHING like the one in that youtube video. The elderly home was even concerned that it would be “too harsh conditions” for me to volunteer in. They wanted to call a nicer elderly home for me to volunteer in! I insisted more than a few times that I wanted to stay and volunteer there. So for the next month, I will take the bus every afternoon on the weekdays to volunteer at that elderly home. I know I will see some really hard things in the next four weeks, but this is real life for them. I am ready to face it and hopefully I can give them some happiness.