Initially I came to India with the goal to learn more about different therapeutic methods used as interventions with special needs children. I chose this internship, Therapy and Counseling, through LeaveUrMark because it seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn from other therapists, practice dance therapy and gain experience working with a group of individuals I have never worked with – children with special needs. Ultimately, I thought, I will gain more knowledge about movement therapy – a career I would like to pursue – which I did but through a different path than expected.
I was placed in a classroom where I teach Social Science, Math and English to children with different learning challenges. I work with two boys who have autism and one boy who has Prader Willi syndrome, they are between the ages of 6 and 7 years. Three weeks into my internship I started working with a young woman who has cerebral palsy in a one-on-one early intervention program.
My first week at school was basically just me getting used to the children, their routine, and how I will go about teaching a concept using creative ways that interests them and that can hold their attention. I observed their level of learning – their strengths and where they have difficulty understanding. The first week was also a week for the children to get used to me. I remember teaching a boy who has epilepsy and as a consequence learning disabilities – the second day I taught him he didn’t want me to teach him and kept calling for his previous teacher. He refused to learn that day, so the smallest success at getting him to learn brought me so much joy and made me even more patient.
My second week was a lot more difficult. I had more responsibilities with less assistance. The children started getting used to me and although they would often throw tantrums, every day I cherished how much they loved learning. Children with learning disabilities might seem as if they don’t like to learn, this would be the assumption especially if the child is not diagnosed with a learning disability. In this case, teachers and parents might assume that the child does not like school when the problem is really the way they are being taught. Working with these three boys has made me love teaching because you can see how excited they are to be in the classroom, to show you what they know, and to learn something new. Whatever they have learned they share with so much enthusiasm every time. It’s only a matter of understanding them and what their strengths are in the classroom, then creating a lesson plan around their strengths. Still every day is a different day. You never know how the child woke up, what they had for breakfast and how they will react in the class that day. Working in this environment also teaches you to be present with the children, therefore, planning your day with flexibility.
Into my third week, I’ve already grown as an individual in ways I couldn’t have imagined. The kids have taught me lessons about myself, and what it means to be a dancer – to have an abled body and a brain and body that communicate so naturally. I learned something very important. I don’t have to be dancing, viewing dance or thinking dance to learn about dance. I can be teaching Social Science, Math and English to these kids and still learn about dance indirectly. They have taught me how to pay attention to behavior, which speaks louder than words – minor actions that inform their brains and stimulate reactions rather than the other way around where the brain is sending messages to the body. Working with the young woman who has cerebral palsy has given me the opportunity to practice what I have learned about the body in College and although I am not working with other therapists and learning about their methods – I am challenged every day to be creative in my teaching and intervention approach, to go to work open minded so I am able to observe patterns and changes in behavior, to have patience and repeat lessons and concepts day after day – until they arrive in the morning on a random day and tell you what they’ve learned. These kids have incredible minds, not to be doubted for a second – and they teach me as much as I am teaching them.
To apply for this internship or other programs to volunteer abroad in India, please read more information here.