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"Fire Souls" at Focus Surrey

Helene Doviken explains why she has volunteered at Focus Surrey for two terms

After volunteering and working with neurotypical children for about 10 years, I decided to try something new and different. Finishing my second year of Psychology and Counselling at the University of Roehampton in 2021, my university sent out an email with an opportunity to volunteer for Focus Surrey. I immediately realised that this was my perfect “new and different”.

The first day caught me a bit off guard. We had a training day with experienced Board Certified Behaviour Analysts (BCBA). I felt overwhelmed and like I did not have the skills to connect with the children. The following week, I was paired with two amazing children, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, for 1-1 tutoring. Working with the principles of Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) alongside some very experienced volunteers, parents and ABA professionals, I slowly started gaining more skills in how to approach the children and find their motivations. I learned that connecting with the children takes time and patience, something that has to be learned the hard way.

Especially significant for me, was the engagement I saw from long-term volunteers, parents and BCBAs at the club. In Norway, where I am originally from, we often call these passionate people “fire souls”, explaining how intensely passionate people dedicate their time and energy. I was inspired by Focus Surrey`s fiery passion to create a space in which both children and tutors were allowed to learn, play and grow in a supportive environment. It really is a unique experience to bond with children who don`t always communicate in the ways you are used to.

Volunteering at Focus Surrey, has given me a massive insight into the daily routines and challenges that children with autism face. Through their continued dedication, the supportive team at Focus continues to demonstrate the importance of fighting for these children`s right to play, explore and have as much fun as everyone else. It was not until my first few weeks that the much used phrase “happy tired” really made sense to me.

Working in small groups also enables you to connect with other volunteers that have the same interest in working with children. Sharing experiences, stories and difficult moments has helped me learn from others and reflect upon my own experiences. Volunteering at Focus Surrey has been, and continues to be, very valuable to me and I am proud to call myself a volunteer ABA tutor. In addition to knowing youre there for the benefit of the children, you are also gaining so much interpersonal skills with other likeminded people, an experience bound to give you some new connections and some lovely conversations!

I have thoroughly enjoyed my last two terms at Focus Surrey. Even now, going into a Masters in a completely different field, I realise that I still wish to strengthen those bonds and continue volunteering for Focus. Focus Surrey truly is a “fire soul” place, filled with uniqueness and diversity, and people who celebrate it!

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