WORK CONTENT AND DESCRIPTION
Autism is a severe, lifelong development disability and children
affected by this suffer from a number of conditions. They have severe communication
and language problems, they are unable to relate to other people and they display
unusual and problematic behaviour. The extent to which a child is affected will
vary from individual to individual. Autistic children need predictability in their
lives. They cannot express their needs effectively and often have extreme reactions
to changes in routine and unfamiliar events.
You'll work in a school for autistic children. There are 85 students and 35 of these
children are live-in learners, staying at the school hostel overnight. The rest
are brought in each day by their parents. The children are aged between 3 and 18
years and they are educated according to their ability, with some moving on to other
schools later on.
The School has three hostels with children housed in age groups: the under 8’s,
and 12-18’s. There is a very happy atmosphere at the school and the teachers are
extremely conscientious and kind people. There is a lot of love here! For some,
the School provides the only opportunity of education for these children. The dedicated
care received at the School gives these children a platform from which they can
enter society with a secure place, despite the limitations of their autism.
The language of tuition is English, but Afrikaans is also used frequently in interpersonal
conversation. A minority of the children speak Xhosa or Afrikaans at home, but all
of them can understand English. Without the help of our volunteers the school would
not be able to give the children the full attention and care that they deserve and
YOUR WORK AT THE SCHOOL:
- On your arrival you will have a short Orientation during which you will learn about
autism. This will include watching a video as well as meeting the teachers and pupils
of the school. You will then be allocated to a teacher for the day. After this initial
induction you may spend time in any of the classes for your first week, getting
to understand the Centre. One of the teaching coordinators will then chat to you
about how you are getting on and ask you to decide which of the classes you would
like to assist in. You will be working along side the teacher, not alone.
- The majority of your work will be as a classroom and hostel assistant where you
will be helping out in a variety of ways. You may be asked to help where children
need special attention or to work with a small group while the teacher works with
another group. Schoolwork varies with different age groups but is based on the normal
school activities – a great deal of one-to-one attention is needed and children
learn basic skills.
- Help is also very much appreciated at supervised activities like swimming which
is part of the daily summer curriculum.
- After school hours, you'll be allocated a “play time” duty at the different hostels
while the children play outdoors under supervision. You will also be involved in
indoor hostel duties after this, which involve the supervision of children. Autistic
children have to be watched closely at all times, as they may react suddenly and
- The help and support given by volunteers is especially needed during preparations
for the school concert – and on the actual night. This usually takes place in October
and is the highlight of the children’s school year.
- If there are any outings while you're there, you'll accompany the teacher and pupils.
These can be many things, possibly even including a camping trip for a few days.
The school loves arranging special events that the students will enjoy. The parents
are also included in events like barbecues or concerts for what the school calls
– “The Family”.
- There will also be a certain amount of Admin work involved in your volunteering,
such as photocopying for the teacher and also duties at the switchboard if the receptionist
is absent - answering the phone, etc.
The best way to get a feel of the very beneficial work you'll do on this project
is to give you an excerpt from the weekly report by Eleanor, our Travellers Cape
Town Liaison, about a volunteer on this project:
Tess has a timetable which gives her the opportunity of working in different
classes each day. She has specific tasks to do with individual children, which are
designed for each particular child according to their type and level of autism.
She was highly praised by the teachers she is working with! The children relate
very well to her, and the staff are thrilled to have her there.
On good weather days, the children play games in the garden. Sometimes, they go for
a walk around the suburb – and this is where the volunteers are such a help, as
autistic children tend to dash off in any direction without warning – and someone
has to keep an eye on them when this happens and gently direct them back again.
On Fridays, the whole school attends the Eurythmy classes, one group at a time –
and Tess helps out there for the day. The music and actions are designed to have
a calming effect and create a peaceful mindset – as well as to teach control of
the body. For some autistic children this is very difficult, as they can’t always
control their body or mind. The gentle guidance and patient repetition offered by
carers and volunteers is absolutely essential. And what patience is needed !! Tess
finishes her time at Vera on Monday – they will really be sad to see her go.
SCHOOL TERMS IN SOUTH AFRICA:
Please note that this placement is not available during the school holidays, so it’s important to consult the school terms below to plan your placement dates. Your project coordinator will also assist you with your placement planning, as well as suggest alternatives and exciting things to do during the holiday periods.
Dates for the 2018 school terms (semesters) are given below.
Term 4: 9 October – 12 December
Dates for the 2019 school terms (semesters) are given below.
Term 1: 09 January – 15 March
Term 2: 02 April – 14 June
Term 3: 09 July – 20 September
Term 4: 1 October – 4 December
Generally the last week before terms end is given to exams and tests. This means that you will find your work load dropping during this week and you will usually find more free time than normal school time. Exams are written by classes from Grade 3 upward three times a year. For the last three weeks of term 2, 3 and 4 it would not be suitable to volunteer in the classes doing exams. The younger children would still welcome volunteers, but individual requests for these dates would have to be discussed first.
Weekends and school holidays are free for you to sight-see and do activities, tours and trips! Please see some of the amazing Add-On trips we've put together for you to complement your placement. More information can be found on the ‘Optional Activities’ Tab on the left.