With a ‘hammer’ fist, William split a wooden board as instructors looked on.
Now on display at home with a special handwritten message, these pieces of wood represent strength, confidence and achievement.
10-year-old William has a dual diagnosis of autism and Moebius syndrome, a rare neurological condition with associated physical disabilities impacting his ability to see up, down or peripherally, along with low muscle tone that affects his gross motor skills.
“Moebius syndrome also has some facial differences,” explains mom Tiffany, “and people [at school] were pointing it out, making fun of it, causing him a lot of anxiety.”
Feeling that William wasn’t getting the right supports (academic, emotional or social) he needed in the traditional public school setting, Tiffany decided to enroll him in Oak Bridge Academy—an alternative, not-for-profit elementary school for children with autism and other learning exceptionalities.
“I used to have to advocate for William daily to ensure his needs were being met,” says Tiffany. “At Oak Bridge, the staff is so highly trained to understand the kids and where their behaviour is coming from so they can support them.”
Located in Cambridge, Ontario, Oak Bridge Academy opened in September 2018 with the aim to provide specialized education and programming for kids like William, including physical education. At Oak Bridge, encouraging and increasing physical activity participation for the students is just as important as the rest of the curriculum.
“As part of our gym program this year, we offered both Kung Fu and Adapted Gymnastics—activities that many of our students may not have access to,” says Oak Bridge Principal, Kathie Shaw. “The kids loved it. It was the highlight of their school year!”
The instructors for these programs tailored the skill learning to meet the needs of students, including adapted equipment, goal setting and additional instructors.
“We’ve noticed a definite improvement in William’s gross motor skills and core strength through Kung Fu and he fell in love with gymnastics,” says Tiffany. “It became like a physiotherapy program and it’s sparked an interest in him being physically active without feeling embarrassed about what he can and cannot do.”
The increased coordination, balance, strength and confidence experienced by students like William is the dream for teachers and parents—and the kids themselves—when they think about all the ways physical activity can benefit a child.
As a not-for-profit organization, Oak Bridge relies on funding from organizations like GoodLife Kids Foundation to support and facilitate these special physical activity programs for students in their community.
“We’re incredibly thankful for GoodLife Kids Foundation,” says Kathie. “Seeing kids smiling, having fun and finding success every day is incredibly rewarding and we’re fortunate to be able to offer these opportunities.”
GoodLife Kids Foundation raises funds to remove barriers and provide physical activity opportunities for kids with special needs all across Canada, just like William. To date, GoodLife Kids Foundation has impacted the lives of more than 254,000 Canadian kids!