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How to multiply the impact of leisure activities attuned to special kids’ needs?

High functioning autistic children can participate in a wide range of leisure activities, though accessing a new environment can be challenging. Moreover, not knowing the rules of the game really goes beyond their comfort zone.

Plenty of local initiatives succeed in the objective to entertain these children for a moment, but let’s not underestimate the impact in the long run. The beneficial effects will definitely contribute to a more diverse and inclusive environment/society.

Wouldn’t it be great to reach out to families far and wide?

A few years ago, I was asked if we could commit us for a project designed to help autistic children. At first, we questioned which domain of life required greater attention? We agreed with dedicated experts to focus on leisure activities.

The authors of “Developing leisure time skills for people with autism spectrum disorders.” describe a pastime as a meaningful engagement during unstructured time. Does it sound like fun? Not really!

So how can we make a difference? Which approach can be most effective?

How can we pursue multiple objectives, never losing out of sight the fun factor… our prime concern?

  • Objective 1 – Allow the children having a good time in a safe environment.
  • Objective 2 – Teach them the basics of a new activity.
  • Objective 3 – Guide our starters to the next level in an inclusive environment.
  • Objective 4 – Helping them to stand in life with more assets due to the achieved communication and integration skills.

The initial project plan involved rolling out a pilot scheme within a 25km range around Ghent. Which implied that we:

  • needed to start from scratch for most of the activities (creating a kind of virtual reality).
  • targeted a too small group of children.
  • missed out on the international expertise, London at first instance.
  • accepted the linguistic and financial limitations of developing the project in a restricted (Dutch-speaking) area.

Operating across borders is the best way to increase our impact on tomorrow’s world. Scoping out to the larger potential also allows us to practice the train the trainer principle from day one. For the pilot we plan to facilitate a collaboration between 3 communities to speed up the process, bearing in mind the goals for inclusion set by authorities worldwide.

Next-level thinking: the inclusive nature of the project is essential to its success!

Raising funds to invest in a child’s future in the long run is an act of social responsibility. However, keeping a small number of children in a safe space isn’t the smartest way to deal with the challenge. Financing leisure activities is a good investment once we reach out to a maximum of newbies.

By helping children to step up to the regular or inclusive leisure offer, they give their seat to beginners. And only 3 to 4 sessions later, another small group can take their chances. Talking about exponential growth potential!

The power of an international network: we train the trainer to multiply the impact!

Local initiators – in general – don’t feel the need to neither grow locally nor spread wings. With their approval we attune the activity to fit the concept of initiation workshops. And we connect (them) with potential partners that can implement the concept in their community.

And off course lifting children to the next level, requires that we give support to coaches in the inclusive leisure environment. They need to feel comfortable with welcoming special children in their groups.

We much appreciate all the good work and acknowledge the influence of all these individual projects. Together we will have more impact and our ambition is to grow a business. There’s a great need for initiatives that – effectively and in large numbers – contribute to a more inclusive living environment.

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