The Care Journal : The Joy of Play

Special Needs

The Joy of Play

Sixteen-year-old Ethan Tan has just started learning to play basketball with a group of children and youth with autism.  His mother, Mrs Susan Tan, participates in the weekly session alongside other parents whose children are also in the group.

“Ethan is by nature a passive person,” said Mrs Tan of her son, who has moderate autism. “He doesn’t really like getting sweaty, and needs a lot of encouragement to try something new.”

As Ethan has difficulty with following instructions, focussing and motor coordination skills, there are not many activities that he can join. But the new basketball group is small, with about 10 participants, and allows parents to join in to guide their children. These made learning much easier for Ethan.

The basketball sessions are part of Temasek Foundation Care’s new pilot programme, Play-Ability, which aims to reduce the barrier of sports participation for those with disabilities or special needs, so that people of all abilities can play sports together.

At the basketball sessions, the pace of learning has been adjusted as the participants “need a lot of repetition to pick up the skills”, explained Mrs Tan. Playing basketball together has given mother and son an opportunity to bond, and she uses it to teach him about persistence. “He may be tired, but he mustn’t give up. So I encourage him and tell him: “Come, Ethan, let’s bounce the ball one more time.”

Finding a common language

Like Ethan, Jared Chew is also learning something new through his experience at Play-Ability.

The ITE College West student and his classmates volunteered to be caregivers at the Play-Ability swimming sessions, after hearing about the programme from their teacher.  These youth volunteers make their way to Heartbeat@Bedok’s spanking new swimming complex each Friday afternoon to swim with some of the residents from THK Home for the Disabled @ Eunos, a residential care for persons with intellectual disabilities. Swimming lanes have been reserved to let these residents enjoy being in the water.

Communication was a concern for the first-time volunteer. “On the first day when I got to know the participant I was assigned to, I was a bit lost on how to talk to him,” Jared shared. “I even got quite frustrated when he didn’t want to listen to me.” But with patience and some ingenuity, Jared broke through. “I observed my partner’s language and realised he reacts to certain words and likes to count ‘1, 2, 3’. So I repeat these words. That helped him to pay attention.” At first hesitant about the water, Jared’s swim partner Wei Lun is now comfortable kicking about in water using a floating foam.

Like Jared, Putra Mohammed Syafiq was also unsure about how to initiate conversation with the participants in the beginning. Luckily for him, he did not have to, as his swim partner picked him from among the volunteers. “Now at each session, I usually ask my swim partner how she is, talk to her and share stories with her,” said Putra.

For these youth volunteers, giving their friends with intellectual disabilities a chance to enjoy the pool and exercise makes the trip from their campus in Bukit Panjang to Bedok worthwhile. “It’s been a pleasant experience so far because I am able to help them,” said Putra. Jared added. “I’m giving a helping hand to those in need. It’s a blessing.

Play leads to positive changes

Ms Celine Tng, a volunteer at the badminton sessions for another group of participants from THK Home for the Disabled @ Chai Chee, also gained a new perspective. “Working with them has helped me see that they are not very different from us,” she said. “I try to understand what they want, and I learn to have patience, which helps when I care for my elderly parents.” She shared her observation that the participants have opened up because of badminton. “For example, Sahol, one of the participants, used to put his head down and didn’t really want to play when he first started. Now he picks up the racket by himself, and he cannot stop!”

Ms Maimunah Binte Mohamed Nasir, programme executive at THK Home for the Disabled @ Chai Chee also saw the change in the residents. “They have become more motivated. They didn’t really like physical exercise before. Now, they look really forward to the sessions, sometimes even rushing up the bus that brings them here!”

The badminton practices were adapted too – by using balloons in place of shuttlecocks, it made it easier for the participants to hit the larger target. The higher chance of success spurred them on to keep playing. In fact, some participants have now moved on to play using shuttlecocks. Ms Maimunah shared, “They are now more willing to try new things because my earlier recommendation of playing badminton worked out well. And they also share with me what else they would like to do.”

As for Ethan and his relationship with basketball, although he cannot share how he feels about this newfound sport, Mrs Tan believes that it has helped him. “After one lesson, Ethan can now differentiate a chest pass and a bounce pass,” said a delighted Mrs Tan.

About Temasek Foundation Cares – Play-Ability programme

Play-Ability offers greater support for persons with disabilities to participate in recreational sport activities and for social interaction and relationship building with all in the community through sports. This pilot programme consists of three components:

Training for volunteer-coaches – training volunteers who show potential and interest in coaching, with opportunities to further their skills through courses such as the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Introduction to Para Sports Coaching course.

Facilities and equipment – once a week, dedicated sport facilities such as swimming lanes, basketball/badminton courts and soccer fields are reserved for persons with disabilities.

Transportation and caregiving services SportSG volunteers will provide care-giving assistance if required. Transportation services are also made available to encourage persons with disabilities to participate.

540 persons with disabilities are expected to benefit from the three-year programme.