Suggestions for Helping Care for Children with Chronic Illnesses or Disabilities from a NAC Volunteer.
1. Don't underestimate what disabled or chronically ill kids are capable of doing. Even very disabled children can be physically active and participate in “normal” activities in their own way.
“The kids at NAC played a pretty aggressive game of basketball, many shooting from their wheelchairs as they rolled across the room at high speed. Even kids with multiple disabilities were able to get other kids 'out' in our rough games of dodge ball.”
2. Even children who are disabled or who have been through a series of traumatic experiences have a sense of humor and a desire to enjoy themselves.
“Many of the kids I worked with were hysterically funny and loved to make me laugh. Isaiah particularly enjoyed shouting confusing steering instructions to me as I pushed his wheelchair, and he found it hilarious when I was unable to move his chair correctly.”
3. You may not be able to understand the nature or seriousness of a child’s problem based on his or her appearance or behavior. Kids are very resilient and you can’t always tell right away what problems they have or what experiences they have been through.
“Some of the children I worked with seemed happy and healthy, and it was not clear to me at first why they were participating in a NAC program. But many of these children had chronic illnesses, like AIDS, and others had psychological problems resulting from violence or abuse.”
4. Children may feel uncomfortable if you observe them too closely. They may be concerned that you think something is wrong with them.
“After I got to know Lisa, a ten-year-old girl, she told me that she had been worried that I had been critical of her because I watched her too closely while she played ball on my first day of work.”
5. Younger children may be very responsive to you; but, it might take older kids longer to open up. It is most effective to approach older children when they are not involved with a group of friends.
“On a trip to Central Park, I was finally able to get to know Jasmine, a twelve-year-old girl, when she was placed in my rowboat apart from her best friend. Once she was no longer clinging to her friend, she was willing to talk to me.”
6. When parents are around, be sensitive to their desire to be in control. Don’t undermine their authority.
“I found that some parents did not appreciate my watching over their children in their presence. One mother did not feel comfortable having me help and made it clear to me that once she was there, I was no longer needed to supervise her child.”
7. Remember that children with physical problems do not necessarily have mental disabilities.
“Many of the physically disabled children that I worked with were extremely intelligent and were excellent readers. I was really surprised when two seven-year-old boys began reading a book where I had left off and continued the story without missing a beat.”
8. Don't be patronizing. Many adults have a tendency to talk down to kids in general, and this tends to increase around children with disabilities.
“I found that the children I worked with were most responsive when they were talked to as young adults. Even the very young children seemed to react best when they were not babied.”
9. Respect the children’s need for independence. Be helpful, but make sure you let them do what they are able to do.
“One day, a little girl asked me to take her to the bathroom-but she was determined to show me that she could get her own paper towel.”
10. Let the kids teach you how to take care of them. They are the experts on taking care of them selves, so let them show you what to do.
“Malcom showed me how to lift his wheelchair when we got to a curb. He loved explaining it to me and showing me what to do, and he found it funny that I couldn’t figure it out on my own.”
For more information on volunteering at NAC, contact our Volunteer Department, at volunteers@NacKidsCan.org or 212-696-1550
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