SCMP – Art, dance and yoga fun for children with special needs

Sessions help children with special needs learn while they’re having fun

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 November, 2013, 4:07am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 November, 2013, 4:07am
The children dance, laugh and jump around to the sound of a saxophone and drums, then dash over to stick polka dots on 3-D art pieces when the music stops.

The group of children with special needs is enjoying an afternoon of music and art to help them express themselves and learn new skills while having fun.

With support from last year’s Operation Santa Claus appeal, the Joshua Hellmann Foundation has set up an arts and yoga programme for these children and their parents.

“I found that my son was able to focus on the music. I discovered more of the things that are suitable for him,” said Pian Yeung Wai-kam, who has attended several sessions with her eight-year-old son, Hugo Lo Chi-hin. Lo, who is autistic, especially enjoys music. He learned body co-ordination skills through yoga sessions.

The eight-week programme, which began last month, is free. The group of 15 children, parents, therapists and instructors meet every Tuesday afternoon at the Jockey Club Sarah Roe School, alternating between art and yoga sessions. The foundation is hoping to expand the programme for more children with different needs.

The 11/2-hour art session last Tuesday involved group art-making, dancing, sharing in a circle, and scrapbook-making.

The children, who have Down’s syndrome, autism, or other special needs, usually have difficulties in communication and concentration.

Yeung said that on a visit to her son’s special school she found that the children did not play together during breaks. They did not talk to one another, but seemed to be communicating somehow, she said.

Julia Byrne, an art therapist who runs the programme, said the children could express their emotions through art and dance.

“Music is another form of communication. We combine art with music and dancing. They learn to be more focused and practise simple communication,” she said.

Children also explore their physical abilities through the specially designed yoga sessions.

Another parent, Andy Chan Kin-shing, who came with his 10-year-old son, said the inclusive environment created by the programme facilitators had taught him to be more tolerant.

“My son is very naughty and noisy at times,” he said. “They gave him a lot of freedom here but also taught him that there are certain boundaries.”

Operation Santa Claus, an annual fundraising campaign organised by the South China Morning Post and RTHK, raised HK$18.8 million last year for 18 charities including the Joshua Hellmann Foundation, which helps families with children who have rare diseases. This year’s version of the campaign, now in its 26th year, kicks off next week.