I help facilitate a program on Sunday mornings, allowing children with special needs to attend their age appropriate classes with their peers. I enjoy watching adult volunteers, called "Shadows", try different ideas to interact with their special friends, as well as encourage the peers to interact with the shadowed child. We have recruited a few peers of the special friends to help involve our buddies in social interaction. I have even greater joy as I watch 3rd and 4th graders shake off any pre-teen social norms, like "cool crowd" or "being laughed at", and befriending a child their age that might be behaviorally, academically, developmentally or socially delayed.
On some "distracted" Sundays, we provide more developmental level appropriate activities for the Shadows with the special friends, and their peers will break away from their classes to join their special friend, discussing God's word, how to pray, and memory verses. There are several benefits that I am observing and it excites me!
1. The special friend is able to be mainstreamed but their individual needs are still met.
2. The special friend is learning to adjust to different situations, attention spans, and adult authority, that is different from the structured academic teacher or disciplining parent.
3. The special friend is allowed the much needed social time and situations where they can observe and be included in normal pre-teen shenanigans!
These two 4th grade, Peer Volunteers are always giggling, daring each other, cutting up, as well as actively participating in anything I ask the kids to do. AND they have their special friend (not pictured) right in the middle of it all!! Sometimes "W" is smiling with them, sometimes he wears a look "what is wrong with these two?" So many times, Structure and Multiple Activities are thought to be the best to "include" a special need child and then normal actions are never allowed. It is important, even for a child with behavior disorders, for the child to observe age appropriate play, decisions, and social interactions that are not necessarily monitored by an adult. (As long as the adult is secretly watching and taking pictures....wink wink...)
yes- this is a picture of love and service!