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Therapy Through Play launched by We Rock The Spectrum Kid’s Gym and partners

Imagine a one-stop place lovingly and specially created to provide affordable therapy, support and play for children with autism.

We Rock The Spectrum Kid’s Gym (WRTS), an inclusive play gymnasium in Ara Damansara, recently launched a programme called ‘Therapy Through Play’, featuring fun and friendly sessions for children with special needs. Crucially, the sessions will also include the occupational therapy these children require, and at half the price of what parents would usually pay.

Recently launched by Y.B. Khairy Jamaluddin, Member of Parliament for Rembau, and his wife, WRTS co-owner Nori Abdullah, this programme also includes incredible partners: multi-disciplinary children’s centre The Energy Source, the National Autism Society of Malaysia (NASOM) and The Autism Cafe Project.

Husband and wife team, Puan Nori Abdullah and YB Khairy Jamaluddin

Making therapy accessible for all

The motivation to establish TPP came from Nori’s own experiences as a mother to a child with autism. Her second son, Timor Abdullah, requires occupational therapy up to six times a week, and she said she greatly understood the importance of early intervention.

Nori said she was thankful for being able to afford her son’s therapy, but acknowledged the fact that affordability and accessibility to the suite of therapies required for a special child could be a real challenge for the average Malaysian. This included occupational therapy, speech therapy and physiotherapy, among others.

In his speech at the launch, Khairy also emphasised the importance of early intervention made possible with early diagnosis.  “If your child has a developmental challenge, seek a diagnosis immediately and explore early intervention.  There should not be any denial syndrome among Malaysian parents,” he said, urging for more awareness in the country about this topic.

Nori and Raif “Leo” Averroes, her youngest son, at We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym (Photo: WRTS Facebook)

What is Therapy Through Play (TTP)?

Combining WRTS’s specialised gym equipment and The Energy Source‘s expertise in occupational and sensory integration therapy, TTP will see a customised programme developed for the needs of each child and their parents or guardians. The inclusive play gymnasium said it had seen positive results for children with special needs who regularly use gym equipment with the right support. This helped in the reduction of the children’s anxiety and increased their social interaction with others.

How Can My Child Enter the Programme?

If you have a child you think will benefit from the programme, here is what you need to do:

1. Screening

Set an appointment for a free screening by a qualified therapist at WRTS, Ara Damansara.

Cost: An entry fee of RM48 is applicable.

2. Customised programme

The therapist will design a customised four-month programme for each parent and child.  The therapist will also train the parent/guardian to conduct the sessions independently so that therapy may continue without the therapist present.  The objective of this is also to strengthen the bond between parent and child. At the end of four months, a review of the child’s progress will be conducted.

Cost: RM282 for the customised programme and three sessions with the therapist.

3. Access to WRTS

The programme requires access to WRTS at least once a week.

Cost: Instead of paying RM48 each time, WRTS offers an affordable package of RM336 for 11 visits. 

Outreach for underprivileged children

Nori and Khairy said the gym would also assist underprivileged families with special needs children. WRTS has successfully raised funds to sponsor one cycle of TTP for 50 children.  “Therapy can be life-changing, but it is expensive. In Kuala Lumpur, it can cost anywhere between RM150 to RM300 to see a specialist. This is beyond what is affordable for most people,” Nori said at the launch.

To be eligible for sponsorship, the child would need to meet the following criteria:

  • A Malaysian citizen living in the Klang Valley
  • Between the age of 3 to 12 years
  • The child has an OKU card or an official diagnosis of developmental delay
  • Total household income below RM4,000 per month
Demonstration – Using a Swing in a Therapy Through Play Session

Challenges for young adults on the spectrum

The launch also saw the inclusive gym addressing another great challenge for those with autism – gaining employment. WRTS is therefore supported by the Autism Cafe Project, which was established in 2016 by Mohd Adli Yahya, a father to an autistic child. 

The cafe provides an avenue for youths with autism to achieve independence.  With a cafe operating in Puchong that is run by young adults on the spectrum, the cafe also does catering for events. In addition,  they sell baked cookies, handicrafts and printed T-shirts. 

During the launch of TTP, the Autism Cafe Project set up booths selling items made by youths with autism.

Through the launch of Therapy Through Play, WRTS ultimately hopes that any Malaysian child who needs therapy will have access to it. Their goal is to help these special children and their families achieve possibilities they may never have thought possible.

 

To apply for TTP,  you may call 03-7859 8081, Whatsapp 010-939 5711 or email [email protected]. You may also visit WRTS at Level 2, Evolve Concept Mall, Ara Damansara for more information.

Initial thoughts

When I first heard about Sunway Putra Mall’s Autism Friendly Shopping Day, I was quite skeptical. My son, Haans, is three and half, with moderate autism. Shopping with him can either be enjoyable or extremely exhausting. Autism is a spectrum after all. So, I have learned to expect the unexpected on outings.

One Tuesday morning, I chalked up the courage to bring my son to Sunway Putra Mall, by myself. Daunting and with no expectations in mind, I braved morning traffic from Shah Alam to the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

Planning the outing

A few days prior, I went to the website, to find out about the facilities available. My first thought, parking privileges available but we need to go the Concierge to pick up the kit first? So, I filled up the GoogleForm online and proceeded to send an email to inquire of the parking privileges. Within a day, I received a reply. My car details were taken, and someone from concierge offered to meet me at the parking lot with their Autsome Kit.  Sunway Putra Mall named this initiative Autsome which stands for Autism is Awesome.

Arriving at Sunway Putra Mall

I arrived rather early, hence, parking was abundant since it was also a weekday. Since my son was in good spirits, I parked at the first available lot in sight. I also thought to leave the reserved Autsome lots for others who may need it more than I.

Reserved Autsome parking bays at level B1
The Concierge at G Level, Sunway Putra Mall

Quickly, we made our way to the Concierge at G level. Walking in, I was quick to notice three very important things:

  • Lights were dimmed – an important element for some on the autism spectrum. Some experience more sensory issues than others whereby excessive lighting could disturb them.
  • Music volume was low  – I could hear music but not as loud. It was pleasant and calming. Loud sounds also tend to bother some people with autism.
  • My son remained calm  – my son was happy to enter in this new, unknown place. He is usually quite wary of new places, at times even refusing to enter. This time however, he entered happily with that curious cheeky smile of his, intent on exploring!

The Autsome Kit

We received our Autsome Kit. The friendly concierge was quick to tell us about some of the privileges we could enjoy. He pointed out key areas such as the Sensory Walls and informed us of the Calm Room available at the Lower Ground Level. At that point in time, Parenthood and the Cat Playground were offering free entry for anyone with the Autsome band on every Tuesday (provided it is not a public holiday).

Autsome Kit containing a pamphlet, parking sticker and Autsome band

The concierge kindly offered to show us around. I thanked him but preferred to explore on our own, as I had to be guided by my son’s temperament too.

So, we began exploring…

Our first stop was the Parenthood, an indoor playground. By showing the Autsome band, we were allowed in immediately.  The play area is huge! Being a weekday, we had the place to ourselves. My son was a little reluctant to enter at first but calmed down rather quickly. I noticed the area was child safe, so I did not need to restrict his movement.

Haans found his way to the ball pool at The Parenthood

I believe he enjoyed not being restricted and was quite happy to roam about freely. He took his time to explore and overall had a pleasant experience here. Next, it was time to move on…but first…meltdown number 1. He did not want to leave, so I proceeded to my usual, carry him (kicking, screaming and all), under the watchful eyes of passersby. Up the escalator we went.

The sensory walls

We arrived at the first Sensory Wall! And what a blessing it was. He was intrigued. At first, I semi-forced him to touch the different textures. There was a good mix of soft and rough textures, shiny surfaces and an assortment of shapes. Eventually, he started to explore it on his own.

There are 3 Sensory Walls in the mall on Levels 2 and 3. Positioned rather strategically along these two levels, it is a good “in-between” break for parents who are shopping with children. In fact, this wall benefits all children and can be a good distraction. The walls also gave me a chance to take a breather in between meltdowns.

Haans exploring the sensory wall after some prompting

What next?

After exploring the various Sensory Walls along the way, we went to the Cat Playground on Level 1. Here, my son enjoyed laying about on the large cushions and rolling around with the friendly cats. Interesting fact, cats can provide an avenue of positive relationships for children with autism. Cats tend to be affectionate, benefiting children with autism and their families.

The Cat Playground also works with Dr. Khew who runs Animals For Young, a centre that provides Animal Therapy and other services for individuals with special needs. Animal assisted therapy incorporates the use of animals such as horses, cats, dogs and so on. It has been an effective form of intervention for individuals with special needs such as autism.

Tactile walking path around the trampoline typically used in therapy for children with autism

Time to calm down

Needless to say, he had a ball of a time with the cats. When it was time to leave, the ultimate meltdown ensued! Rolling on the floor, kicking and screaming. It’s a blur to me, but we somehow, we made it to the “Calm Room” at the Lower Ground Level (next to Nandos).

We entered and he began to calm down as he sought comfort in soft textured pillows coupled with the “music turtle” playing calming music in the background. This room is fully equipped with sensory toys, pillows, a comfortable couch, and even a weighted blanket. It is clean and lighting dimmed which does not overwhelm someone who is already in a “tantrum mode”. It also gives the parent a chance to calm themselves down from dealing with a meltdown, or just a few minutes to catch up on messages or return important phone calls.

Why Autism Friendly Shopping Day?

We asked Sunway Putra Mall, why autism? Ms. Phang Sau Lian, General Manager of Sunway Putra Mall said,

“When we first approached this initiative, we found one thing in common amongst our colleagues; a number of us knew at least one person with autism and the challenges they face in public places like shopping malls. Thus, this project is very close to our hearts. We decided to embark on this journey to advocate Autism Awareness.”

The aim is to provide an inclusive and comfortable shopping experience while creating awareness towards increasing public understanding of autism. Sunway Putra Mall will also extend these privileges to other types of special needs in addition to autism. There are also plans for another Calm Room on Level 3 which should be ready by the third quarter of 2019. As for other Sunway Malls, the management says it is being considered.

In a nutshell

Registration is only required for the first visit. Patrons are encouraged to reuse the Autsome bands for subsequent visits. The Autsome initiative  includes the following privileges daily:

  • Access to the Calm Room at level LG
  • Sensory Walls on Levels 2 and 3

Every Tuesday 10am – 5pm (except public holidays) – Autism Friendly Shopping Day includes the following:

  • Dimmed lighting
  • Lowered volume levels
  • Reserved Parking at Level B1 (first come first serve basis). Stickers available at the concierge upon online registration online.
  • Special discounts and privileges offered by participating tenants. List available here.
  • Assistance from concierge personnel

Despite my son’s tantrums and meltdowns, it was a positive experience. The Sensory Walls certainly do create a welcomed distraction. The Calm Room is indeed a blessing too. Overall, Sunway Putra Mall has made an excellent attempt at being Malaysia’s first Autism Friendly Mall.

BLOKKE, in Citta Mall, Ara Damansara, has been a hit among parents and children from the day it opened its doors. This was thanks to its unique LEGO-inspired play centre.

However in April this year, BLOKKE underwent a major renovation to improve its facilities and revamp its premise.  After months of progress, it finally reopened on July 2018. Now it has a completely different look, intent and feel. Can you imagine it any better than it was?

I was eager to see the changes and updates, so I took my children to visit the new BLOKKE. While there, I had a revealing chat with its owner,  Sheahnee Iman Lee.

A space made for families

Upon entering the new BLOKKE, we were greeted by its huge restaurant. I could immediately feel the LEGO vibes from the colour scheme –the bright distinctive colours of LEGO blocks assailed us.  I love that the space feels family-friendly too, with ample floor space to move about. It’s perfect for parents with a stroller or many children.

According to Sheahnee, they want to encourage parents to gather with family or friends at BLOKKE. It was with this intent that much space has been allocated in the setup.

Watch the children play

Everything at BLOKKE revolves around playing LEGO. Sheahnee said they worked closely with their own children to get ideas on what they would love in a play area. These ideas turned out to be brilliant.

There is a small nook near the window for the children to play with LEGO blocks, with a row of seating spaces for parents who wish to supervise their children closely. This is definitely a great option for younger children who can’t be left alone in the playland.

In essence, the play area comprises a few ‘stations’ with specific activities – for example, a giant ball pool, a construction station to mobilise soft giant LEGO blocks, a fire station, a trampoline and many others.

Many think that BLOKKE is a franchise business, but it’s actually an original idea by Sheahnee, her husband and her brother. It’s great to know that these parents put much thought into creating the concept.

Safety first!

Children who enter the playland are given tags for security. The whole area is secured with only one entry  and exit point for easy monitoring. There is also a hand sanitiser at the entrance, manning staff and very clear house rules.

In terms of hygiene and cleanliness, Sheahnee said regular cleanings are scheduled daily, weekly and monthly. As a parent, she wants to ensure that BLOKKE is safe even for her own children. As such they do go the extra mile to ensure that their centre is clean and safe for children.

It’s also good to know that all surfaces in BLOKKE are protected with the latest anti-bacterial coating technology. This helps to keep the space clean aside from their regular scheduled cleanings. This was definitely reassuring for me to hear as a parent.

Monitor while dining

There is one thing that I fancy less with the updated BLOKKE – the playland and restaurant area are separated. Before, parents were able to dine while watching their children play. We can no longer do so.

However, it was good to discover that there is a live CCTV feed of the playland. The feed, showing a few different angles, is projected in the restaurant. This is helpful if you have older children who do not need to be supervised.

A new menu: now anyone can eat

The BLOKKE restaurant now has its own kitchen, with an experienced chef to run it. They have a huge menu suitable for children and adults. It also caters for all manner of diets– for the healthy eaters, vegetarians, meat-lovers and even those with allergy concerns.

There’s a special monthly menu to try, and for dessert, an in-house pastry chef prepares something sumptuous every day.

With such a menu, the owners hope to attract family and friends to gather for a pleasant time over food at their restaurant.

What I loved about the restaurant is that their kids menu is so well thought out. Kids meals come in a complete set with drinks, and served with child-friendly plates and cutlery.

Space for private events

The new BLOKKE also has a dedicated space for private events -something they did not have before. This serves walk-in patrons well. They will be able to dine in peace – without intruding on the event, or being disrupted by it.

Nurturing creativity through BLOKKE Labs

Across from the main premise is BLOKKE Labs. Here, interesting LEGO-themed classes for kids aged 2 and above are on offer. BLOKKE Labs aims to nurture the love for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) among children, through specially curated modules depending on the age group.

BLOKKE Labs also offers BLOKKETherapy for Autism. This programme is endorsed by Dr Daniel B.LeGoff, a paediatric neuropsychologist and founder of LEGO Therapy for autistic children.

Parents will love it too

All in all, as a parent, I feel BLOKKE is a great space for my children to play. The kids can play on their own or with a play date. As a mom who works from home, it allows me to do several things at the same time. I can do some work on my laptop. I can enjoy a cup of coffee and some silent ‘me’ time; all while my children are well occupied, safe and enjoying themselves.

Rating: ★★★★☆

For more information and updates about BLOKKE, visit them on their website and Facebook page.