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NEWS+: Sports improve the development of autistic children

Updated: Oct 1, 2022

Published on BERITAmediacorp: Sep 25 2022 04:34PM

Translated from Malay to English

Technique, footwork and goalscoring.

Those are some of the exercises that Muhammad Safiyy Hanafi, 10 years old, does every weekend.

Despite having autism, his ability to control the ball and his agility are the same as other children. He is one of the 18 participants in the Singa Champs program founded by Cik Ernie Sontaril. It offers a distinctive soccer program for children and adolescents with autism.

"My goal to build Singa Champs is actually to give children with autism opportunities to be exposed to sports and also encourage them to communicate with their friends. As you know, communication is one of their weaknesses," explained Cik Ernie to BERITAmediacorp. FOOTBALL ALSO IMPROVES SOCIAL SKILLS In addition to developing communication skills, leisure activities like this can provide many other benefits for those with autism. For other children, the activity of playing soccer is an ordinary recreation to stay alert but for autistic children it is more than that. This is because it improves their social skills and self-confidence. The program is also customized according to the student profile and is run in small batches.

Family members of the participants were also able to see some positive changes.

According to Encik Hanafi Osman, he saw many changes in his son, Muhammad Safiyy since he joined Singa Champs.

"After he enters this soccer platform, he can become an independent slave. He is not like he used to be. If he 'meltdown' he will be alone in one place but now he is not," shared Encik Hanafi. Indirectly, Muhammad Safiyy can also improve skills to interact and cooperate with others. "I like to come here because I like to play with my friends. I like to play with the coaches. I like to be in the game, I like to train. I like everything here," said Safiyy. According to psychologists, the basic skills and abilities of autistic children can be developed by playing sports. "The brain is what is called 'neuro plasticity'. So it will continue to grow and change depending on the environment. For children with autism, one of their main weaknesses is communication." "So continuing the sport, children can practice skills such as communication, learn to cooperate and interact with their friends," explains Dr Samantha Tang, Consultant Psychology at Healis Autism Centre.

For this reason, Dr Samantha said it is important that these basic skills are introduced through exercise as early as possible to children with autism. She also emphasized the importance of prioritizing the interests and tendencies of autistic children themselves. Dr Samantha said: "Sometimes, as parents we have aspirations such as wanting to put our child in a fencing class because it's a glamorous sport or something very special, and use it to apply for the Direct Admission to School (DSA) scheme." "When we accompany children, we must take into account their motivations and interests, no matter their age. We want the children to feel that they can be successful and capable."


This environment is also being tried at BazGym Gymnastics, a special gym class for children with autism. Activities such as walking on a plank can also build participants' confidence.

Bazgym Gymnastics trainer Cik Nur-Hafizah Zain said: "Gymnastics help them in their movement, core strength or 'core strength' and also aware of their surroundings. Their social skills also improve because in class, we have eight students and from there they have to take turns to create activities.

"One of the activities we do in the classroom is jumping on a trampoline. From there, they can improve their core strength as well as their stability. That's very important because ASD children, they sometimes can't keep up."

Although Cik Fizah agrees about the challenges of guiding children with autism, she also gives her an invaluable satisfaction, even more so when she sees the positive developments in the participants.

"Issac often enjoys falling and we want to improve his agility because he will start from level one. We know there are stairs at school and we want him to join the activities safely," said Encik Tan Keng Sing Benjamin, father to a BazGym Gymnastics participant.


More than just a ritual activity, it is also part of the efforts of parents to develop their children's abilities.

Encik Mubarak Mustafa Khamal, the father of another Lion Champs participant said: "If we don't do something, nothing will change. There will come a time when he will leave the house and start exploring his own world. So if there is an opportunity for him to wake up his skills and become people are better, why not?"

With that, they hope their child can be more independent one day.

Written by: Nur Arina Ahmad Anis, BERITA Mediacorp

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