Personal experience working with individuals with IDD
When I was told that I would be doing my Community Nutrition rotation with Karlyn Emile at the Special Olympics, I became very excited. Many Dietetics and Nutrition interns that have completed their rotation at The Special Olympics in the past have expressed what a great experience it was for them. They always mentioned how rewarding it was for them to be able to share, teach and learn from individuals with DD/IDD. I had already worked as an assistant teacher in a daycare so I knew that this was the perfect place for me to complete my Community Nutrition rotation. I assumed there wouldn’t be much of a difference between teaching children and teaching this population.
The first day we had to teach a health class to the students, I quickly learned that all of my assumptions were completely wrong. As I watched other volunteers from other professions interact with the students, I realized that it is very common to assume and treat these individuals like children because of their disabilities. It quickly dawned on me how poorly we are prepared to interact with individuals within this population. As days went by and we spent more time with them, I began to build a bigger understanding on how to handle the class and what teaching techniques would work best when teaching this population. I soon began to understand what the previous interns meant.
Every class we teach is an amazing experience. We prepare our lectures ahead of time to make sure that we deliver a great learning experience for the students. They are very sweet and loving individuals who enjoy talking and spending time with us. They love coming to our class even if some of them may not fully understand some of the concepts we are teaching them. Their classroom teachers have expressed to us the difference they see in the student’s attitude towards our lessons and how excited they become when they know they have a class that day.
Advice and tips for future interns/ volunteers
Firstly, it is very important to understand that although the students may have an intellectual disability, they are not children and should not be treated as such. They are adults who need more patience and reinforcement in order to learn new materials. Secondly, though the students are separated into different classrooms depending on their level of awareness, each one is completely different in his/her way of learning. Some may need more reinforcement than others. Classes or presentations should encompass simplified material along with different activities that stimulate repetition of information. Interactive activities are always a must with this population since it encourages them to become interested in the topic making it easier for them to remember.