FCSN Kids and Young Adults Find Their Voices in Toastmasters
By Dan Rachlin, FCSN parent
About two years ago, I attended a routine IEP for my son Sammy. At the beginning of the meeting, his teacher Ms. Louis mentioned that Sammy would be giving his own presentation. I was quietly skeptical, expecting that this would be a very watered-down sort of affair. When it came time for the presentation, Sammy stood up in front of his small audience, and gave a slide presentation describing his progress and expectations. I was amazed at how he was able to do things that I would expect out of a trained speaker. He made very effective eye contact, his voice was strong, and his timing was perfect. It seemed like Sammy was transformed. I was stunned and realized that something profound had happened.
Months later, I reflected on this event and it occurred to me that Toastmasters could be a great match for Special Needs. From where I stood, having one foot in the world of special needs and another in Toastmasters, this fact appeared obvious on many levels. Ms. Louis gave provided some tips and a few of from Saratoga Toastmasters went to work.
It is useful to inject some background about Toastmasters International. The organization was founded in 1924 by Ralph C. Smedley in a YMCA in Santa Ana, California to assist young men in improving their communication skills. The concept progressed and the organization was formally incorporated here in California in 1932. It quickly grew and became an international organization. These days it can be found on all the continents – while there is no club in Antarctica, a speech was recently given there by a past member of Saratoga Toastmasters.
A pilot activity was started in Sept. of 2019 with the purpose of introducing the Toastmasters experience to FCSN individuals with special needs. We benefited greatly from the help of Alan’s mother Jennifer Li who had the foresight to obtain a popular timeslot during the Saturday evening family gatherings. Our first wave of volunteers comprised members of Saratoga Toastmasters. Other waves of volunteers have participated. This activity could not get off the ground without the efforts of these individuals.
Throughout the fall, we had a successful series of meetings. Attendance was typically 25 or more. At first, Toastmasters volunteers played many of the roles. Our young adults gave prepared speeches, but our young adults were wary of other roles such as Toastmaster of the Day. Steadily, as the weeks went by more and more of these roles were filled with young adults.
Everything happily progressed until the Chinese New Year, when FCSN and other entities were shut down due to the COVID-19 response. Toastmasters Clubs locally and throughout the world had to deal with this issue. When our sponsor Gopal suggested we have our meetings online, we had something of a model for how to make this scenario work. We started our Zoom-meetings in March. Instead of bi-weekly, they were weekly, and it was extremely satisfying to see how our members took on the challenge so capably with regular attendance. With only a few diminishing exceptions, roles are filled exclusively by young adults.
Currently we are focused on chartering the club – the process of becoming an officially recognized Toastmasters club. We have about a dozen regular young adults but will need some parents to join to help and to bring the initial count to 20 as required. Becoming a club will allow us to participate in the formal education program of Toastmasters. Members will give speeches much as they do now but following a curriculum wherein each speech will emphasize specialized objectives. There are online teaching videos and other materials that go with these speech projects. The program is called “Pathways.” As a club, we will have officer roles that can be shared by parents and young adults. These include President, VP Education, VP Membership, Secretary and Sergeant at Arms. There are many district level educational events that one can attend. And of course, it is always possible to visit other clubs as a guest to see how they operate. Many will be pleased to note that other clubs operate very much like ours.
As time goes on, we hope to integrate the Special Needs participation with certain mainstream Toastmasters curriculum elements, better allowing Toastmasters members to get education credit for their volunteer work with us. A good example is one-on-one mentoring – consider how the possibilities have opened now that we are all comfortable with online conferencing. We wish to put ourselves on the map as an FCSN Toastmasters club so that these and other opportunities can come about.
Toastmasters can be, and for many has become, a lifetime activity. In this sense, it compares very well with Special Olympics. With its world-wide reach, one can take time during travel to visit a local Toastmasters club and be welcomed as if one were at home. If one moves to another location, there is a high likelihood that a Toastmasters club is available locally to join.
One might get this far and still ask, why be concerned with public speaking when simple one-on-one dialog is most often the primary concern? There are many answers to this question. Certainly, the meetings are a source of fun learning with friends. By having a performance dimension, we create focus and thereby a greater sense of accomplishment during each instance of successful communication. Finally, consider leadership – as is developed through taking on meeting roles and officer roles. Being a leader in any situation contributes to one’s successful management of other challenges in life. It is therefore understandable that the logo of Toastmasters International, an organization most often associated with communication, includes the tagline “Where Leaders Are Made.”
Parent Feedback on FCSN Toastmasters Club
By Jim Chiao
I am familiar with the Toastmasters club, as I was once a short-term member many years ago. It provides learning and educational opportunities to speak and communicate with others, especially in front of people.
What I am not familiar with was the idea of forming such a club for special needs adults. I thought many of the meeting protocols and tasks were beyond the capability of most of our special needs adults – it would be difficult for them to fit into a normal club. I was quite surprised when Dan started this club and carried it on for months, and I have witnessed great progress made by many of the participants. Now, I can see the great potential it lends to our members, special needs or not.
Because the capability of each of our children is different, it is important that parents also participate in this club. We are there to help them prepare the speech, to prompt them during the meeting, and to take on a functional role if needed. With all the benefits Toastmasters provides, I am looking forward to the formal establishment of this club at FCSN.
By Sufen Wu, FCSN parent
Toastmasters? 我本來對這個既熟悉又陌生的詞敬而遠之，因為兒子季齡並不是 屬於「會講話」的自閉症 ，在這種以語言為主的場合對他是無效的。直到居家避疫令下達，大家都只能待在家裡望著電腦和朋友見面。我才決定讓季齡參加，「至少見見朋友們」，我想。有一次，Alan 負責Table Topic， 即是找一個話題提問，大家自由舉手回答。這時我可以找一個季齡熟悉的題目給主持人， 讓他送球給季齡。結果如下：Alan： “ ChiLing， what is your favorite song？” ChiLing：” My favorite song is ‘ I just call to say I love you’ ,” Alan: “ ChiLing, can you sing it？” 哈哈! 正中下懷！季齡欣然從命。每個特殊孩子的關注點都不一樣，要訓練說話能力，就要從他們的強項開始。 感謝Alan做了一個好球送給季齡，讓他有機會表達自己。