moveathon helps kids empathize with special needs
June 19, 2012 | Jewish Tribune
Rena Green Tribune Intern
TORONTO – The sun was shining at Downsview Park on Sunday as an estimated 7,000 people gathered for the 15th annual Zareinu Moveathon Festival.
Hoping to raise funds and awareness for the Zareinu Educational Centre, members of the community were invited to join in a day of entertainment, food and marathons.
Among the excitement was the Sensitization Pavilion, an interactive station providing children with an understanding of the struggles their peers with physical and developmental disabilities face every day. Children had the opportunity to attempt various tasks while their own abilities were compromised.
“We have different activities that simulate what it would be like to have a special need of some kind,” explained Rachael Czutrin, speech language pathologist at Zareinu.
Among the tasks the children attempted, one targeted their oral motor skills.
“We have the children put a candy on their tongue, and stick their tongue out and try to convey a message,” Czutrin continued. “We then talk to them about how it felt. Was it harder? Was it frustrating? How do you think it feels for a child that talks like this all the time?”
A similar activity allowed children to sample various types of lemonade to convey the struggles of children with impaired sensory input. “One is very bland, one is very sweet and one is very sour,” said Lindsey Athias, behaviour therapist at Zareinu. “This builds on the principal that [special needs children] expect one thing from their bodies, and then something totally different happens.”
An activity using popular children’s games encouraged the kids to use their creativity.
“We give the kids a student profile: a child with Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Attention Deficit Disorder and auditory processing issues,” said Czutrin. “We have them think about the game and how [they] would modify it for a child with those specific issues.”
Turning the exercise into a contest, kids were encouraged to come up with creative ways to modify their favourite games.
“Twister for example,” Czutrin continued. “How could a child with Cerebral Palsy with limited mobility play twister?”
With a fundraising goal of $1 million and a successful event reaching out to the community, Moveathon Founder and Chairman Hershy Weinberg is optimistic.
“G-d already gave us a beautiful day so we’ll see how the rest works out!”