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Individualizing action plans for each child: The story of PlayOnside

Copyrights: PlayOnside

Individualizing action plans for each child: The story of PlayOnside

PlayOnside works in Thailand with displaced Burmese migrant children with different physical and mental disabilities, individualizing their action plans to be relevant, tangible and flexible, so that each child’s needs are met.

December 3rd is the International Day of Disabled Persons. It serves as a day to promote a broader understanding of how it is to live with a disability, and to challenge misconceptions and discrimination of people with disabilities.

Depending on the definition of disability, worldwide, between 93 and 150 million children have a disability, and a disproportionately high percentage live in low- or middle-income countries. Children with disabilities living in poverty are marginalized in several different ways. They face social exclusion, educational exclusion and the shame stigma related to their medical condition.

PlayOnside is a not-for-profit organization working in Thailand with displaced Burmese migrant children. The Burmese migrant communities in general, and children in particular face a set of difficulties. Lack of access to proper education, lack of access to healthcare and a future with low access to employment further marginalize their future.

Children with disabilities living in poverty are marginalized in even more ways. They face the same type of challenges related to poverty and inadequate access to education and healthcare and lack of qualified professional follow up. Misconception regarding their conditions and discrimination and exclusion are continuous challenges for these children and their families.

Sport, or what we in PlayOnside like to call activity-based learning, can, if implemented correctly, play an important role in the process of educating, empowering and including children with disabilities. PlayOnside is working currently working with 19 children with a different set of mental and physical disabilities.

Organizations working in our field of sport and development have a particular responsibility when it comes to this target group. Our different tools, that being a football, a skateboard or a shuttlecock, are extraordinarily powerful. However, we need to adapt our approach, as the context, compared to working with children without disabilities, is different. First and foremost, it is important to recognize the children as regular kids with all the same basic needs. The need of having friends, the need of activities, the need of feeling appreciated and the need to belong.

Yes, we need to facilitate differently, but the focus should not be on the disability itself but on the personality, skills, interests and abilities of the child. The disability should never be what identifies the child. The children in our program have different disabilities. The conditions of our children range from autism, cerebral palsy, and Down’s syndrome, to hearing impairment or development delay.

The different disabilities mean PlayOnside needs an approach individually adapted to each child. Each child gets an individual learning and lesson plan, adapted to their own needs and interests. For some of these kids, we work on basic motor skills, while others struggle with lack of ability to focus or to manage anger. The activity-based learning approach from PlayOnside does not happen in a vacuum. It is a part of a holistic approach, working together with their parents, other organizations, and the StarFlower school, a local learning center for children with special needs.

Through this holistic and collaborative approach, focusing on tangible, relevant and realistic individualized learning outcomes, we have the potential to positively influence the children’s emotional resilience, motor skills, and social skills.

That the goals or the individual learning outcomes are tangible, realistic and relevant are of utmost importance.

It needs to be relevant so the child can gain independency. For example, if a child is unable to feed themselves due to inability to lift a spoon or a fork, to focus on this particular motor skill will give the child a feeling of accomplishment and they will gain independence, as they do not have to be fed by others. If the goals or outcomes are unrealistic or intangible and the child is not able to overcome the challenges, because we as an organization put the expectations to high, it might have a negative effect on their self-esteem or self-confidence.

Individualized lesson plans also have to be flexible. Not everything always works as expected, and thus, PlayOnside focuses on back-up plans in case a lesson does not work as planned. All the individualization and preparations are, of course, resource intensive. Thus, working with children with specialized needs always demand more resources than working with children without disabilities. Resources, whether it is financial or human skills, are already scare in lower-income communities. Hence, too often these children do not get the stimuli they deserve and the individual follow up as they need.

Activity-based learning does not only have a positive effect on the motor, emotional, and critical thinking skills, but it also serves as a catalyst for challenging superstitiousness, preconceptions and misunderstandings regarding the medical conditions. Therefore, it is important not only to integrate, but to include these children with other children. Organizations like PlayOnside have an extra responsibility in this aspect. We need to downplay the competitive aspect of sport and enhance the educational, social and inclusive aspect of our tools for development.

Ole Michelsen is a Program Manager at PlayOnside.



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Monday, November 23, 2020 - 17:38