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How Can Children with Autism Volunteer?

Children with autism, like all children, have unique strengths and abilities.

Volunteering is a powerful means of community engagement, personal development, and social integration. While the benefits of volunteering are well-documented for individuals of all abilities, it is equally important to explore how children with autism can participate in volunteer activities. This article delves into the ways in which children with autism can engage in volunteer work by highlighting the advantages, identifying suitable opportunities, and discussing key considerations to ensure a positive experience.

Benefits of Volunteering for Children with Autism

Volunteering can offer a plethora of benefits for children with autism:

  1. Skill Development: Participation in volunteer activities allows children with autism to develop crucial life skills such as communication, teamwork, time management, and problem-solving.

  1. Increased Confidence: Successfully completing tasks and contributing to a cause can significantly boost self-esteem and confidence, promoting a sense of accomplishment.

  1. Social Interaction: Volunteering provides structured opportunities for social interaction, enabling children with autism to practise and enhance their social skills.

  1. Sense of Purpose: Involvement in volunteer work gives children with autism a sense of purpose and belonging within their communities, fostering a positive self-identity.

Key considerations

Children with autism, like all children, have unique strengths and abilities that can make them valuable contributors to volunteer activities. However, it's essential to consider their individual needs and preferences when finding suitable volunteer opportunities. Here are some steps and considerations for involving children with autism in volunteer work:

  1. Assess Interests and Abilities

  • Begin by identifying the child’s interests (this can be a fixation/obsession they have) and skills. This will help you find volunteer opportunities that align with their ability, knowledge and preferences.

  • Understand their sensory sensitivities and communication style. Some children with autism may have sensory issues that affect their comfort level in different environments.

  1. Sensory Considerations

  • If the child has sensory sensitivities, ensure the volunteer environment accommodates these needs, For example provide noise-cancelling headphones, sunglasses, or fidget tools as needed.

  • Choose activities and settings that are not overwhelming in terms of sensory input.

  1. Communication

  • Ensure clear and effective communication between the child, their support person and the organisation's staff.

  • Create a visual schedule for social stories to help the child understand the volunteer tasks and expectations.

  1. Starting Small

  • Initiating the child's volunteer experience with short and manageable sessions is advisable. 

  • As they become more comfortable and confident, the complexity and duration of volunteer activities can be gradually increased.

  1. Experienced organisation

  • Ensure the organisation has worked with children with autism before and are experienced in managing the strengths and weaknesses of those with autism.

Identifying Suitable Volunteer Opportunities

To engage children with autism in volunteering, it is essential to identify opportunities that cater to their unique needs and interests. These opportunities can vary widely but may include:

  1. Animal Shelters: Many children with autism have a deep affinity for animals, making volunteering at local animal shelters a suitable choice. Tasks may include feeding, cleaning, or walking animals under supervision. An example of an organisation that works with children is ACRES (Animal Concerns Research & Education Society) in Singapore, which focuses on caring for animals.

  1. Environmental Initiatives: Participating in gardening or environmental cleanup projects can provide children with autism with sensory-friendly outdoor experiences while contributing to the environment. Some of the organisations that work with children include Habitat for Humanity, which focuses on building homes and improving neighbourhoods, and Trash Hero Clean-ups, which specialises in beach clean-ups.

  1. Artistic Endeavours: Art projects and craft workshops allow children with autism to express their creativity while collaborating with peers in a supportive environment.

  1. Library Tasks: Assisting with library tasks such as shelving books or organising materials can offer a structured and quiet volunteering experience.

Volunteering has the potential to be a transformative experience for children with autism, promoting their personal growth, skill development, and social inclusion. By identifying suitable opportunities and providing necessary support and accommodations, society can empower children with autism to make meaningful contributions to their communities. It is essential to recognize that every child with autism is unique, and tailoring volunteer experiences to their individual needs and interests is key to fostering a positive and inclusive environment.

Written by: Sharon


Image Link:

Anderson, A. H., et al. (2021). Effects of a community-based group volunteer program on people with autism spectrum disorder: A randomized controlled trial. Autism, 25(7), 1945-1957.

Fletcher-Watson, S., et al. (2014). Interventions based on the Theory of Mind cognitive model for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 3(3).

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