A new physical literacy program at Genesis Place Recreation Centre will cater to young children with autism and sensory sensitivities in Airdrie.
“Basically, we recognized a gap in programming for kids with autism,” said Jerret McCoy, Genesis Place wellness programmer. “One of the statistics we saw that jumped out at us was that only three per cent of kids with autism participate in organized sport, compared to 31 per cent of able-bodied youth. Honestly, that’s a pretty troubling statistic. “
Fun Inc. will launch Nov. 5 and run until Dec. 12. McCoy said the program will be held on Monday evenings from 4 to 6 p.m. and Saturday mornings from 10 a.m. to noon.
According to McCoy, the program’s curriculum was developed by the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence in conjunction with the Canucks Autism Network. He said participants aged four to 11 years old will learn to develop fundamental movement skills so they’re better able to participate in mainstream sports programs in the future.
“Physical literacy is essentially the building blocks for more competent movement as we get older,” he said. “A lot of us take physical literacy for granted. A lot of us develop these skills on the playground and such, growing up.”
Genesis Place's Travis Walsh, a physical literacy specialist, will be the lead instructor for the program.
Participants will be placed in two age groups – the first hour of Fun Inc. will be dedicated to children aged four to six, and the second hour will be for ages seven to 11.
Thanks to funding Genesis Place received through the Communities ChooseWell RECreate Grant (CCRG), McCoy said the program will be free. The CCRG aims to overcome challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic to support programs that promote physical activity, active living and healthy eating.
“We knew a challenge for a program like this is, you want to have a really high instructor-to-participant ratio, so that can be expensive,” McCoy said. “We recognized the opportunity to get some funding, so we decided to put the [application] together and start finding participants.”
With the program set to start in just a few weeks, McCoy said Genesis Place is now trying to promote the program – which will have a capacity of 20 participants – to eligible families.
“That’s the challenge now – getting that message out there so families know about this and so they can get a hold of us to get their kid in the program, so they can start developing those key physical literacy skills,” he said. “We’re really hopeful we can get word out about this program and try to fill it up.”
According to McCoy, Genesis Place staff will implement many health and safety protocols to minimize the risk of participants contracting COVID-19 during the program.
“With this program, like all of our programs, we’re bound by the provincial guidelines for sport, physical activity and recreation, which are put out by the Province,” he said. “Within that, we’ve implemented practices to minimize risk of transmission, including rigorous cleaning and disinfecting schedules.”
Other measures will include daily health screening, frequent hand sanitizing and adapting lessons, when possible, to account for proper social distancing. McCoy added staff will be wearing masks and program participants will be encouraged to wear them as well, though it is not mandatory.
“We’ve also implemented procedures for rapid response if there’s an attendee that develops symptoms of illness,” he said.
Following the completion of the program Dec. 12, McCoy said a second session is slated to run from Jan. 7 to Feb. 13, 2021. That session will also have a capacity of 20 participants, he added.
“I think when families find out about this program, they’ll be very excited to participate because I’m sure these families know better than anyone these opportunities are hard to come by,” he said.
Registration inquiries can be sent to Bobbi Thomas, Genesis Place’s preschool, children and youth programmer at firstname.lastname@example.org