Tips on Training Volunteers

FROM SIMONE – As I mentioned in my previous blog about recruiting volunteers I was going to share my experience of running a Son-Rise Program since 2005, I am a Brazilian Mom to an English 9 year old autistic boy, we live in London in the United Kingdom.

Before becoming a Son-Rise Program Mom I used to work as an teacher and as a trainer so it is no surprise that training volunteers is the aspect on a Son-Rise Program I most enjoy. Here are some tips I can share from training volunteers for the last six years:

Make a training plan. There is no set way of training your volunteers, you can find a way that works best for your family juggling around the time you have if you need to cook, do your housework or if you have other children to look after too. Although every volunteer is different, I like to have a plan I can follow and spend as much time in each category as each person requires. This is the training plan I chose for my son’s Son-Rise Program:

Day 1: (1.5 hours, while there is someone else with my child)
I present the new volunteer with videos about The Son-Rise Program (I use some short videos from the Autism Solution DVD or the Breakthrough Strategies DVD) and The Option Process® that is the basis of The Son-Rise Program, and here I present the principles of The Son-Rise Program and how I would like our relationship and their relationship with my child to be based in love, acceptance and non-judgement

Day 2: (1.5 hours, while there is someone else with my child)
I introduce to them the basic terminology such as isms, joining, building, celebrating, etc., so that when we start our hands-on training they have an idea what I am talking about. There are a number of videos that can support you on this, Breakthrough Strategies, Autism Solution or any footage you might have of yourself playing with your child or a Son-Rise Program Child Facilitator or Teacher during an Outreach program.

Day 3: (2 hours, while there is a person in stand by to be with my child)
First Playroom session: Show video about joining from Autism Solution. Demonstrate joining with my child in the playroom for 5 or 10 minutes, or use Outreach video of Child Facilitator playing with my child when they are joining him, if you have one, and let them have a go at joining for 15 minutes while I make feedback notes. When giving feedback, I make sure my child is with someone else I have as a stand by or, if no one is available, I let my child play in the playroom by himself while I am in the room next door keeping an eye on him while doing a feedback session on the 15 minutes I have just observed. Find a point of change to focus on and return to the playroom for another 15 mins to try out again. Depending on the volunteer I repeat this process on the same day or on another day. Remainder of the time: Exercise on imagination, I give my new volunteer objects and ask him/her to think of 5 different uses for each object

Day 4 and subsequent: (2 hours, while there is a person in stand by to be with my child)
If you feel your volunteer has grasped joining, advance to the next technique: celebrating. If not persist on the joining for another day. If they have grasped really well the concept of joining, repeat the same process you did for joining for each technique and go on adding techniques until the person is working with your child 15 minutes at a time focusing on all possible techniques from the program dedicating one to three days to each technique depending on their response to feedback and my child’s availability as if for example I am trying to train them to request and my child is isming all the time, they won’t be able to do so.

After my volunteer is trained in this manner in all techniques from The Son-Rise Program, I then train them in endurance and I ask them to go in the playroom with my child for 15 minutes then each day. I increase 15 minutes in their time in the playroom until they reach the two hours they would normally work, when they would be considered to be trained and I would do then feedback once a week instead of at every session.

During the time my volunteer is only working for my child for 15 minutes learning each technique I still have training sessions of two hours and in the reminder of the time I practice with them improvising, celebrating in diferent ways, songs, body movements, facial expressions, how to fill out paperwork, cleaning and hygiene in the playroom as well as brainstorming games.

This is of course just a suggestion of how I train as I know of many other Son-Rise Program Parents who have trained their volunteers in completely different ways and were very successful too, the important thing is finding what is right for the rhythm of your household, yourself and your child.

Treat your volunteers with the same principles as your child – Everything that applies to your child applies to your volunteers, go with them, be non-judgemental in your feedback, be loving and accepting, believe in their ability to learn and grow, create training exercises that are fun and exciting.

When doing feedback ask questions before saying do or don’t do this – Get to know how they work, what the thought processes of their actions were, before throwing in the teaching. Example: Child is isming, volunteer is animatedly trying to start a game with lots of The Three E’s, instead of saying at this moment here when John was isming you were trying to play ball with him, don’t do that when he is isming, you can say for example, When John was isming by the table I noticed you started a game with a ball tell me a bit more about why you chose to play with the ball…

Use improvisation games during group meetings – To get my volunteer creative juices going, there are excelent games ideas in the old TV Program “Whose line is it anyway?” one Idea for example I like to use is the party mystery guest. Make cards with some character names on them you could have for example builder, Indian, Teletubby, Thomas the Tank, Woody from Toy Story, someone with hiccups, someone who talks fast or sneezes a lot, someone who trips over everything, the possibilities are endless. Put the cards in a hat or bag and ask your volunteers to draw a card, show you but not anybody else in the group. They will have to pretend they were that character from the card while another volunteer who will play the party host will have to guess which character each volunteer is playing.

Vary group meetings to keep them interesting – Sometimes we have brainstorming sessions in which we think of games, some others fun games like the one above, we sometimes go out together to celebrate someone’s birthday or farewell or to celebrate a new volunteer entering the team.
It is very important that your volunteers understand how to build up games themselves, rather than just giving them activities to play with your child that are ready made, even if you have tons of activities you already thought of. One game to help them understand the structure of Son-Rise Program games is making a bunch of cards with themes that your child is interested in, another bunch of cards with names of props and another with the objectives you are working on. Arrange the cards in three different piles and each volunteer in turn has to draw one card of each pile and think of a game that envolves the combination they got, so for example, they can have Dinossaurs as a theme, a ball as a prop and eye contact as an objective, because it is quite hard to marry random elements they will have to work harder at it and will therefore retain the structure of marrying objective with child’s motivation very well in their head and also potentially weird combinations also pose a fun and challenging factor in the activity.

Hope the tips were useful and that they will help you enjoy training, it can be as fun as being with your child in the playroom!

6 Responses

  1. Audrey says:

    Thanks for this post. It is very relevant to what we're currently doing?

  2. Pratima says:

    Thank you so very much for this post. Very helpful 🙂

  3. Teboho says:

    Thank you very much for the post, appreciated.

  4. Thank you for sharing! That is how we all get better and better!!

  5. Rona Xie says:

    Great tips!

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