A holistic approach to disability implicates therapy, education and independent living. Add a generous dash of love, enthusiasm and a passion for the job and you’re at Inspire! The dedicated staff and volunteers help over 1000 individuals facing various disability difficulties – from down syndrome and autism to cerebral palsy and others. The challenges of inclusion and equality are tackled head-on, with a great number of programmes that aim for growth and development, integration and a sense of achievement.
The decision of Banif Bank to sponsor two Learning Support Assistants for Inspire’s summer school came easy. The financial support ensured that Inspire’s aim to create a positive environment in which children of different abilities can participate in is reached. Roxana Azzoppardi, one of the LSAs sponsored by Banif, shares her insights into the profession.
1. What are the targets of a Learning Support Assistant at Inspire?
The individual child is the focus of all that we do. We adapt to specific needs in a context of inclusion and mixed ability. We help children with their educational and social development, both in and out of the classroom. The job involves doing activities to instigate interaction, improve skills and knowledge, make them feel at ease while doing something outside their comfort zone. We use plenty of positive reinforcement, such using a star chart or rewarding the child with something he/she really enjoys doing. Most importantly we make them feel loved!
2. What other approaches do LSAs take?
One important focus is a child’s abilities rather than the particular disability. We also talk about feelings. We involve the parents since they a crucial element of the child’s growth. Our activities combine fun and education with plenty of interaction between children of different abilities. It’s important that children learn to socialise and integrate well with each other.
3. What particular moments of the job give you the most satisfaction?
The moments I cherish greatly are those when a child feels comfortable with me, or when he or she tries really hard to do something I’ve suggested. It’s in these instances when I feel my efforts are giving fruit. I once worked with a non-verbal child who totally disliked drawing. When I first started assisting him, he used to cry when entering the pottery room and would take off his shoes and run around or try going outside. But by the end of summer, he had made a clay object and even drew a picture. I remember another child who refused to join in the dancing during lessons, but then really got into it during our big concert. I really cannot describe the happiness I felt. It was great! These little moments are what give me the most satisfaction.
4. What are your challenges?
Not always knowing the background of the child is a difficulty, so sometimes you have to try different approaches until you get to know them better. It’s even harder when you don’t have much support from parents. Moreover, if the parents don’t work with the child at home, there’s added difficulty. Non-verbal children in particular can be hard to understand until you get to know them, as they may have their own way of communicating which you have to get used to.
Adapting teaching methods according to the different needs of the child is a solution. Some common methods include breaking down tasks into smaller steps, focusing on one concept at a time, and using games and visual aids. We talk with the child about what we’re doing and engage them with questions like “How is this working for you?” so that we can fine-tune our exercises as we go along, keeping the child focused on the learning process and outcomes.
Inspire needs to raise more than €3 million a year to keep running smoothly and to give heavily subsided quality services to children and families.