The transformative power of sports for the special needs community
To most people, sports may simply be a matter of sweating it out and keeping fit. As the advisor and teacher-in-charge of the Sports Squad CCA Group in MINDS Woodlands Gardens School (WGS), Noor Adilah Binte Ngadi, 40, has seen first-hand how sports has a far-reaching impact for her students with special needs by helping them build a healthy lifestyle, providing holistic development and enabling them to set and achieve aspirations.
A radical change in approach
Since 2019, MINDS embarked on a massive undertaking to revamp the Physical Education (PE) curriculum in its Special Education (SPED) schools to empower students to integrate into society through sports and take ownership of their health while ensuring that they had the physical capabilities and fitness to attain and retain employment.
These goals led to a more holistic approach towards sports and wellness, going beyond the previous curriculum’s focus on developing fundamental movement skills in isolation. The redefined objectives cast a wider net for what students could learn, dividing them into five key learning areas:
- Games and Sports: To develop cognition and understanding of game concepts and tactics. Students would need to independently determine which movements and physical skills to execute to that would enable them to participate in the games, further developing hand-eye coordination and object-control. Football, badminton and basketball were the three core sports identified for this module.
- Outdoor Education: To inculcate a sense of appreciation for the environment and a love for the outdoors in students, while developing situational-awareness and their ability to manage risks in outdoor environments.
- Physical health and fitness: To gain knowledge, skills and values that will help students plan and maintain their personal health and fitness, including keeping within the healthy Body-Mass Index (BMI) range. This module is particularly needful as obesity is a prevalent morbidity for PWIDs, and WGS has been working to address this trend for many years.
- Swimming: To enable students to learn about water safety while developing locomotor skills like balancing, jogging and skipping, and non-locomotor skills that encompass swaying motions such as bending and twisting in non-weight bearing environments.
- Educational Gymnastics and Dance: By learning about rhythm, body management and control, students would ideally be able to transition from one movement to another safely. This would translate to preventing accidents or serious injury as the muscle-memory they developed takes over to break their fall if they trip while walking or running.
Adilah recalls how PE used to be more focused on individual skills, such as how to throw, catch or kick a ball. “Now, we teach things like how to dribble, how to defend and attack, how to play with each other… It’s a lot more engagement.”
Building a love for sports
Today, Adilah’s students are having fun and thriving through sports.
Jordan, a student in Adilah’s sports CCA who has autism, is one of many who has benefitted from sports and the revised curriculum. A shy boy who was hesitant to communicate with others, Jordan slowly came out of his shell through sports and games. He now communicates his intentions on the court with ease, calling out “pass” and “here” when he plays floorball with his peers.
The effects have gone beyond students in the sports CCA, with students in other CCAs asking to participate so that they can all play together. Parents have also joined the fray. Inspired by his child’s love for basketball, the father of one of Adilah’s students made it a point to play basketball with his son after school.
WGS has also begun to see improvements in their students’ weight management and fitness levels. More students have been able to complete movements sequences in gymnastics and dance. In addition, a growing number of senior students are able to maintain possession of the ball in modified games such as 3-on-3 volleyball and 1-on-1 basketball.
One of WGS’ crowning achievements were the medals their teams won at the Play Inclusive games in 2019. The Play Inclusive games promote inclusion through shared sporting experiences between persons with and without disabilities as they train and compete together. With their teammates from Evergreen Secondary School, WGS students scored a gold medal in badminton and two silver medals in football and floorball.
“The Evergreen students were very nice and kind, they would make sure to take care of the WGS students’ safety and eat lunch together with them. At the same time, our WGS students get to make new friends with other teenagers,” enthused Adilah. She added how it was always exciting to witness the WGS students’ competitive spirit kicking in.
This year, Adilah plans to give her students more exposure through competitions and opportunities for them to play athletes in the wider community.
Many Persons with Intellectual Disability (PWIDs) are predisposed to health conditions such as obesity and diabetes. However, prevention and management of these morbidities is often hindered as they face higher barriers to entry to sports and struggle with accessing sporting programmes and facilities in community settings.
The Colour Socks Parade is MINDS’ annual event to showcase the gifts and abilities of PWIDs, raise awareness of PWIDs in the community and to foster meaningful engagements between PWIDs, their families and the wider community.
This year, we’re also championing inclusion through sports and making sure our PWID friends are not left behind. Through sports play, we hope PWIDs and their families will be encouraged to adopt an active and healthy lifestyle to improve their health, sustain employment and enhance their quality of life.
Join us at The Colour Socks Parade 2023 Inclusive Sports Fiesta at Our Tampines Hub on 1 April 2023. Registration is free! Get more details and register your interest for the event here.
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