My Week at the LIH Olivia’s Place Learning Center

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Joy Ashford, LIH Olivia's Place Shanghai Summer Intern

Joy Ashford, LIH Olivia’s Place Shanghai Summer Intern

Hi, I’m Joy. I am currently living in Shanghai and working as a marketing intern for LIH Olivia’s Place. I am from Philadelphia, United States, where I help lead a monthly sports program for kids with disabilities. I have seen the difference positive and professional care can make for kids with disabilities back home, and I wanted to be part of spreading that here in China. I fell in love with Shanghai when I visited last year, and I came to LIH Olivia’s Place hoping that I can further their mission and improve the lives of kids with disabilities in one of the best cities in the world.
In June, I had the privilege of working at the LIH Olivia’s Place Learning Center, which provides an inclusive learning environment. LIH Olivia’s Place are actively changing the face of health care in China with their amazing international staff and revolutionary individualized, interdisciplinary, and family-centered approach. It was such an exciting opportunity to spend time learning from them.

When I met the Learning Center staff for the first time, I quickly saw that happiness and positivity underlay everything that they did. You can see it in the toys that line the walls, in the brightly colored student artwork displayed proudly in the front walkway, and in the smiles on the kids’ faces as you walk through the door. Each student has their own individual challenges, whether it be learning, behavior, social skills, or a combination – but none of them have a problem with happiness.

It seemed very apparent to me after my first day at the school that the Learning Center was exactly what a bug-eyed Shanghai newcomer like me needed. I hardly had time to miss home before I was bombarded with eager hugs, with enthusiastic kids teaching me how to do the hokey-pokey, with yoga sessions where I realized just how inflexible I was (and how incredibly flexible kids are!), and with “authentic” Chinese cooking classes, with a side of far more laughs (and a little flour in the face) than I could find anywhere else.

These smiles, of course, did not always come easily. As the students raced through their busy schedule, I could see in every interaction the committed care and attention of each staff member, and the difference it made in each individual child’s development.

One child, they told me, had come into the clinic seemingly always overwhelmed, crying, covering her face, crawling into the corner, and often unable to articulate how she felt. Now I watched her giggling as she stirred a cake mix for us all to enjoy, or gave her classmate an excited “big clap!” when he was willing to put his toys away.

Another child had difficulties with behavior, and had struggled to learn anything in school because of her trouble communicating with and following her teachers. I watched Ms. Akshata’s careful, intentional way of giving the girl directions – counting to 10 to give her time to process, rewarding positive behavior with encouragement, and providing a “break” for her to calm down when she still struggled to accept or understand. I learned to see every “yes” as a sign of hard work, on both their parts. However, by this time, the girl had learned to say a lot more than “yes.” With an understanding teacher, a child that had entered the classroom speaking only a few words of Mandarin was now bilingual, far ahead of her peers in both Mandarin and English.

The Learning Center consistently demonstrates that having “special needs” is not synonymous with comprehensive weakness. Their teachers excel at seeing the special strengths that set each student apart, alongside with each challenge that needs to be worked with. As they themselves would tell you, that holistic approach is their tried-and-true key to success. Sometimes, the best prescription for any developmental difficulty isn’t a medication, but a firm hand, a nod of encouragement, or a “big clap!” when the student gets something right. Letting the students learn and develop at their own pace, the Learning Center’s teachers’ willingness to adjust to each child seems to be their key to success – along, of course, with their ever-present smiles.