A number of young medics of the future have spent a full year volunteering at Daisy Chain as part of their university studies.

As part of their course at Durham University, medical students undertake a community project during their second year. Six students spent their time at Daisy Chain.

We talked to Victoria Smith and Michalis Kavourides to find out more about their volunteering experience at Daisy Chain.

Michalis volunteered with the teen social club and Victoria with both the adult club and the club for those aged five to 12.

Says Victoria, “Being at Daisy Chain never felt like work. We have to do a number of hours volunteering as part of our course, but for me it became bigger than that as I developed relationships with both the children and the adults. It was very much about being a part of an organisation and helping the young people to enjoy their social time together.”

Says Michalis, “I learned a lot about autism which is going to be very useful in my career. It got rid of any preconceptions I had about autism. I had never been around anyone with autism so it was good to dispel the myths and build up a real understanding. I now feel more confident about how to talk to children, how to behave around them.

“I attended some Saturday activity days and saw families all together, many with siblings and it demonstrated to me how invisible autism can be when I thought it would be more obvious. Also with the teenage group, I thought they might find it difficult to talk to me when I was new but actually, it was them approaching me rather than the other way around. I was impressed at how confident they were at Daisy Chain.”

Victoria adds, “I do know one person with autism but other than that my impressions were all from the media and popular culture, so I imagined it might be difficult to have conversations and there would be issues with the social side of things. It completely surprised me how easy it was to settle in and the young people would just approach me.”

Michalis, like all the students, carried out background research on autism before attending Daisy Chain. He explains, “After reading and research autism, I expected that people would have similar traits but that is not the case. You can also see the effect of being in a relaxed environment like Daisy Chain where no-one judges the young people and children.”

Victoria particularly enjoyed the variety in her volunteer role, “There was always something different going on every week. We had the visual timetable so everyone knew what they could do and what was coming up next, but there was so much happening, it was great fun. The service users made it very special. I particularly enjoyed the beginning of the session when we would all offer a piece of good news that had happened that week, it was a connection with each other.”

For Michalis, seeing the parents connect during activity days, getting advice, support and simply enjoying some social time, was a revelation. “It demonstrated why Daisy Chain is so popular. Many parents said they could not go to a mainstream soft play in case their child’s behaviour was misunderstood, where at Daisy Chain they could relax. In all my time there, it felt like a real community. We were all very impressed with the variety of activities – football, the Wii, pool and games.”

Both Victoria and Michalis will be working on placement at University Hospital of North Tees and Victoria says, “Volunteering at Daisy Chain has raised our awareness of autism. Now if I meet someone on the spectrum in clinical practice, I will be mindful of their needs so I can offer the best patient experience I can give. I recognise that just because someone has ASD, it does not make them difficult.”

Michalis concludes, “It’s also good to know that there are adjustments that can be made to the physical environment to make life easier, whether it is ensuring there is a quiet space or dimming the lights. Attending Daisy Chain has been a rewarding experience that will contribute to our practice in the future.”

For more information on volunteering with Daisy Chain, visit our Volunteering pages on our website.

23rd April 2018