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Working With Special Needs Students

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For many students, it would be a dream to have someone else to take notes or watch films for you. But for special needs students, it's not a dream. It's a necessity.

Volunteers help those students by taking notes, taking immobile students to different classes and explaining movies and exhibits.

People who volunteer with special needs students help to provide a better education by ensuring that information and classes that are essential are not missed. Usually, the work is something they are already doing.

The duties required when volunteering with special needs students will vary according to the needs of the student. Those jobs might include taking notes, assisting a student with physical activities such as getting to and from class or tutoring.

Alessia Cowee helped a special needs student while she was attending Shasta High School in Redding, California. She says that she got "a better understanding of those with disabilities" while she was volunteering to help a person with lifting weights and getting to and from gym class.

Benefits to you, as a volunteer, include "gaining experience for future careers, being active or involved with your community and meeting other people," says Joy Kingstone. She is the director of programs for the Special Needs Network.

"Employees often look for people who have experience or volunteer work in the field they are entering," Kingstone points out.

Many schools have a program to help meet the needs of the students with disabilities that attend. And most of those programs depend heavily on volunteers to help with various needs of the students.

Jessica attends Grayson County High School. She volunteers to help a special needs student at her school. "I just try to keep them up to speed and keep them at the same level as everyone else so they don't get too far behind and the teacher doesn't have to spend a lot of time with just one student," she says.

To do this, Jessica helps the student find answers, reads to him or her, or writes down the day's homework assignments. These are everyday things that can be taken for granted.

"I was actually very surprised when I worked with students with severe disabilities and found that these students were well aware of what's popular and what's not and what's going on around them," she says.

"Since I have a sister with some disabilities, I have wanted to help other kids as I have helped her. Nothing makes me angrier than to have ignorant people belittle other people because of how they may look on the outside."

Alec Shoemaker volunteers at Carver Middle School in Chester, Virginia. "My duties are to escort a blind child around for three or four of his classes," he says.

"My favorite thing is just talking to him because he does not judge you on what you wear or how you look," says Alec. "Because he can't see, he just judges you on your personality."

Of course, there are things about volunteering that Alec isn't fond of. "My least favorite thing is watching movies because I don't have a chance to watch the movie because I have to explain everything to him."

Alec does get to go to lunch five minutes early, which is a nice perk. "Other students can get involved. There are no fees or requirements," he says. "So I would say go for it because it's so much fun!"

There is a lot more involved than fun, says Kingstone. "Volunteers make sure that special needs students are getting the support to help them develop the skills needed to live independently."

There's more to it, though. Kingstone says that volunteers learn that "the best way you can service this population is to be honest. Don't be shy about telling them how they make you feel. Follow your gut instinct in a gentle and nice way -- that's how this person will grow."

To get involved, she says that all you really need is a "good attitude and a good outlook. Try to approach things with an open mind."

How to Get Involved

No special training or equipment is needed to volunteer with special needs students. But the program you volunteer with will probably provide an orientation or short training session.

The only physical requirements of volunteers who help special needs students is that you be able to fill the needs of the student.

Most schools have a program for students with special needs. Volunteering is as simple as going to the head of the program and expressing a willingness to help.

There are programs outside of school that also need volunteers to help with special needs students. To volunteer in such a program, contact the head of volunteer services or the program director.


Federation for Children With Special Needs
1135 Tremont St., Ste. 420
Boston , MA   02120


National Information Center for Children and Youth With Disabilities
Lots of information for parents and those who work with special needs children

Special Olympics International
Provides sports training for people who have disabilities

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OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.