I believe that all parents should teach their children the importance of volunteering at an early age. Helping others comes in many forms and while monetary contributions are very important, there are a number of other ways one can help others.
My son is now 18 years old and has a number of hidden special needs. He is on the autistic spectrum, has obsessive-compulsive disorder, impulsive disorder, Tourettes syndrome and anxiety. Teaching him to think of others was quite challenging when he was younger. I took small steps with him because I knew that asking for major sacrifices would be overwhelming. I would ask him to donate two stuffed animals or two toys that he really didn’t care about. At first, it was difficult for him to understand why he had to give something of his to someone else. Why couldn’t they just buy it themselves? I would explain that some people have very little and it’s very nice to make them feel better by giving them a present. In addition to donating toys or books, donating gently worn clothing can help someone in need. I would clean out my closets every year and make sure clothes were donated to my local Goodwill store.
As he grew older, explaining the importance of helping others became easier. I always made sure to remind him that it isn’t how much you donate but the fact that you are donating to a charity. Every bit helps and does make a difference. Attending Sunday school, they asked for donations every week. Donating as little as $.50 shows others that you care. Little amounts donated every week by each student can add up to quite a bit at the end of the month.
There are those people on the autistic spectrum that have some awareness and might think of others on their own. They have some empathy and compassion although it is more limited than most. Many parents in my position have to constantly encourage their children and even young adults to give back to the community. It’s not that my son or others like him are selfish. They just don’t think about it. They have to be reminded because it doesn’t come naturally.
Ryan is now involved in a couple of all inclusive youth groups and they’ve made sandwiches for the homeless and soup for those staying in Houston while receiving medical treatment. It’s another step in the volunteering path that I’m proud he is involved in. Volunteering as a group provides him with wonderful role models that care about giving back and remind him of the importance.
The latest endeavor was my contacting Volunteer Houston. It is an amazing organization dedicated to helping agencies in need and assigning volunteers who want to help. I realize that Ryan has issues that may prevent him from volunteering anywhere. The agency needs to understand his difficulty in social communication, anxiety and impulsive behaviors. Before placing him, he visited their main office and volunteered a few times so their staff could evaluate him and place him in an agency that is best for him. Scanning pictures, making cards or assembling information packets – it allowed him to help someone else.
His next step in giving back will involve volunteering in one of the agencies they partner with. The goal is for him to visit once a week for an hour after school. In the right environment with staff that understands hidden special needs, everyone can volunteer and pay it forward! Always remember that it doesn’t matter how much you give of your money or time, it matters that you are doing something to help someone else!
Judy Blake is the author of Judy’s World – The World of Autism through the Eyes of a Mother. Her story chronicles her life and that of her boys. Giving speeches for 10 years, she travels throughout the country and speaks to audiences of all ages. Students, teachers, and adults are taken on a journey about her experiences in raising two boys with hidden disabilities. To purchase her book or schedule her as a speaker, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out her website at www.judysworld.info.