BLOOM: What is the purpose of the program?
Virginia Wright: We’re building an inclusive program designed to inspire a passion for physical activity in kids who have disabilities and those who are typically developing who aren’t active physically.
There are many programs out there that are integrated, where you bring your child into an existing program and they adjust the program to fit the child as best as they can. We wanted to build the intention and curriculum of our program to be inclusive from the beginning. So in our program manual, you would see that each activity we do is designed with different ways that it can be adapted.
Many of the kids with disabilities tell us that they hate phys-ed class at school because it’s adapted only marginally, and in ways that make them feel belittled or singled out.
BLOOM: Which children can participate?
Virginia Wright: Our current groups have children with physical disabilities who use manual wheelchairs or walkers, as well as children with autism, developmental coordination disorder and intellectual disability. In terms of the children without disabilities, we’re looking for kids whose parents would say: ‘I can’t get him off the couch.’
In the pilot phase, we are looking for kids who can participate independently because we want them to be the centre of the interaction with staff, as opposed to having support workers or families involved. They need to be able to work comfortably in a group, to tolerate noise and stimulation, and to follow three-step instructions.
BLOOM: Why is there a need for this kind of program?
Virginia Wright: We have lots of great programs at Holland Bloorview, but where do kids go from here into the community? What if they don’t have a rehab centre like Holland Bloorview? We wanted to design an inclusive program we could put into the community in the first place, so all of the kids’ interactions and friendships and activities happen there.
We’ve partnered with Variety Village, the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, U of T, the Abilities Centre in Whitby and the Pickering Soccer Club. They’re trying it out and telling us what they like about it. Ultimately the goal is to get programs going across the country.
BLOOM: How does the program work?
Virginia Wright: The first phase is called Quickstart. It’s 16 sessions for one hour a week after school. We’re helping kids develop fundamental sports skills, movement skills, phys-ed skills and game-play skills in a collaborative, non-competitive environment.
The program is run by fitness instructors and coaches who have trained in adapted physical activity, not health-care professionals. We’re teaching the skills you need for games and activities like martial arts or yoga or dancing. The kids work together on a team.
So one game might be that they have to get their bean bag down to the other end of the gym, but the rule is that everyone on your team has to have held the bean bag twice. They have to figure it out. At the end of four sessions they have to work together to create their own game and instruct everyone else in how to play it.
BLOOM: What is the second phase?
Virginia Wright: During Quickstart each participant is assigned a coach. The coach is at the sessions, seeing what you’re doing, facilitating activities and helping you set physical activity goals. The coach helps you figure out what type of activity you’d like to sign up for in the second phase, which is called Give It A Try.
In Give It A Try students pick an eight- to 12-week program, usually at the same accessible community centre IFP is offered at. A coach works with them to find something that is a good interest and ability fit. These are regular programs like basketball, Zumba, fencing, soccer or Tae Kwon Do.
IFP pays for this program because one of the barriers to families trying new things is being able to afford them. Once they’ve begun Give It A Try, kids continue to receive coaching about developing skills and setting goals for the future.
BLOOM: What kind of results are you seeing in kids who’ve completed the program?
Virginia Wright: We see large increases in kids' self-efficacy—in their confidence in trying new things and feeling they can do it, and in their pride of setting physical goals and achieving them. We have them fill out questionnaires before and after on their attitudes to physical activity, their confidence and a goals form on what they want to work on. They also do an advance motor skills test before and after and we monitor them with a Fitbit-like device. The kids say they have a much stronger sense of ‘I can do this’ and that physical activity is fun.
Igniting Fitness Possibilities is funded by Chillin’ for Kids, the Milos Raonic Foundation, The National Bank, GoodLife Fitness, the University of Toronto’s Connaught New Researcher Award and Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation.