Play areas have proven to be enabling in the physical and social development of children with special needs. However, providing a play area for children with special needs has not been an easy task for several institutions in Jamaica.
According to Toni-Ann Millen, special needs coordinator at Liberty Academy, this is mainly due to the fact that constructing play areas can be an expensive venture. Fortunately, a $670,000 grant from the Digicel 5K for Special Needs helped to transform the existing open area that was being used as a playground into a fully equipped recreational area.
"We used to just have some metal structures for students to climb, but now we have tree houses, swings, see-saws, slides and rock climbing [structure] for them to play on," Millen explained.
Since the playground was opened at the start of the academic year, Millen says there has been a clear, positive change in the interaction among the student population of 41, especially among the largest group which are autistic.
"Normally, autistic students prefer to play alone, but since the playground was installed, they have boosted playtime and now interact with each other more," said Millen.
Occupational therapist Lisa Milligen also emphasised the importance of play areas for children with special needs.
"Play areas are built in order to help them develop mentally, because they now interact with each other more," Milligen explained. "There are kids who cannot sit upright and the playground helps them to develop their physical core, so specially built play areas are important to the student's development, both mentally and physically."
Sharing that the school has infrastructural improvements at the top of its agenda, Millen was extremely thankful for the assistance the institution received from Digicel.
"A lot of persons are unaware of the work that we do and the 5K run has opened our doors to the wider public who are realising how much developmental work we do with the children, because they now know the type of special needs we are trained to teach," Millen said.
This year's Digicel 5K Imagine Run will be held on Saturday, October 22, in downtown Kingston and will again raise funds for special-needs institutions across the island. The nine beneficiaries of this year's 5K include the Jamaica Paralympic Association, Abilities Foundation and the Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf, Special Olympics Jamaica, Mustard Seed Communities, Jamaica Autism Support Association, Jamaica Down's Syndrome Foundation, Early Stimulation Plus, and the Jamaica Association on Intellectual Disabilities.