DR RADICA MAHASE
“When I saw the flyer on Facebook I was so happy. For the entire month of July, Kabir kept asking to go to the mall. We went a couple of times but he was so bored. He doesn’t like the cinemas and the arcade is too noisy so all we really did was walk around and we didn’t stay long. Today he is just happy! We have been here for an entire hour and he’s busy doing all the craft activities with the teenagers. It’s quiet so he’s not uncomfortable. And we can just sit here and relax a bit and watch him. This is the best trip to the mall we have ever had! These were the words of Khadijah, mother of seven-year-old Kabir at KidZJam 2019 at C3 Centre on August 7.
During the vacation, public places such as cinema halls and shopping malls tend to be very busy and crowded. Some shopping malls organise activities for children regularly. However, many parents of children with special needs tend to stay away from the malls (and other public spaces) because of the crowds and noise and because their children might not participate in the activities due to sensory issues.
KidZJam 2019 was organised especially with this in mind – it was a fun day especially for those with special needs, organised by Support Autism T&T in collaboration with C3 Centre. The idea was to create an opportunity for children with special needs in a public space where they can do activities suitable to their development age and interact with other neurotypical children in a safe, comfortable and sensory-friendly environment. Hence, there were the regular activities for kids – bouncy castle, face painting, balloon craft and various games but in addition to these there were craft stations with sensory-friendly activities suitable for any development age.
KidZJam represents the type of events that should be available to individuals with special needs on a regular basis. So often we see events and activities being organised for children in general. During the vacation period there is a proliferation of summer camps, fun days, magic shows, and sporting events and so on, and these are excellent ways to keep children engaged.
Sadly, many children with special needs, because of their specific needs and sensory issues, might not be able to participate in these.
However, if we are truly interested in making TT a special needs inclusive society then we need to take into consideration all children, regardless of abilities. In the case of vacation activities organised by various entities, a good idea will be to include a special needs component into any event. For example, sports day can have a few races/activities for children with special needs; fun days can have a quieter zone with craft activities that they can enjoy, like what was done at C3 Centre. Here are some more ideas:
Art galleries and artists can consider doing some art sessions at public spaces such as shopping malls for those with special needs and their siblings.
Sports club can host football and cricket sessions for individuals with special needs and allow their regular players to interact with the special needs children. In this way, those with special needs will get a chance to learn a new sport while the footballers and cricketers will get the opportunity to “coach”.
Churches, temples, mosques and other religious institutions can organise special services (quieter sessions for example) for those with special needs or use their regular services to educate members about inclusion and accepting differences.
Generally, there is this attitude that organising activities for individuals with special needs is a task and they will take too much effort, time and money/resources. Maybe we should start thinking that it’s not a task, it’s just a matter of tweaking regular activities to make them special. With a little bit of creativity this is not impossible to do.
At the end of the day, the best way to teach inclusion is to practice inclusion. When shopping malls like C3 Centre and other organisations/institutions host activities and events with a focus on those with special needs they are not just demonstrating good corporate social responsibility, they are sending a clear message that they are supportive of inclusion and are willing to take an active role in creating a society that is accepting of everyone, regardless of abilities.
Kudos to C3 Centre for making Kabir and Khadijah happier this vacation!
Dr Radica Mahase
Support Autism T&T