Feature: Swim camp helps Gaza's autistic children to integrate into society

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, August 11, 2020
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by Sanaa Kamal

GAZA, Aug. 11 (Xinhua) -- It was the first time that Mohammed al-Safadi, a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) from the blockaded Gaza Strip, succeeded in swimming in water with a depth of 2 meters.

Together with 19 other children with ASD, the 11-year-old boy participated in a summer swim camp set up by the Hamas-ruled Ministry of Youths and Sports.

Al-Safadi and his mates have been taking swimming classes suitable for their mental and physical condition, but the idea of the initiative was far beyond entertainment.

The goal was to help them integrate into society and overcome the difficulties they have been facing, Safaa Nassar, the manager of the camp, told Xinhua.

ASD is characterized by difficulties with social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior.

Nassar said that swimming could help children with autism improve their self-esteem, speech, coordination, social skills and even cognitive abilities.

"Children with ASD are often excluded from other sports as there are just too many elements they need to focus on. So being in the water can give them the time to be alone, without the need to pass on a ball or being responsible for the success of the entire team," she explained.

But al-Safadi was far from being the only person who enjoyed the activity. His mother, Sanaa, also expressed her happiness at the results, saying she was thrilled that her child was exposed to many other children who are facing similar challenges.

The 45-year-old mother of five told Xinhua that she tried to register her son in many summer camps with other children, "but her requests have always been rejected because of her child's illness."

"I am happy to see my child interact with his coaches in the camp, in addition to relying on himself to perform some exercises to prove his worth like all the other kids," she added while looking at her son swimming in the pool.

Before joining the camp, al-Safadi was afraid to interact with other people, while now, he gradually accepts the presence of others who are not members of his family, said the mother.

Basheer Mushtaha, a swimming coach, said that he has been facing obstacles in dealing with autistic children, especially when their parents were absent.

"It is upsetting that this group of children does not have curative sports programs throughout the year in the Gaza Strip," the 24-year-old coach told Xinhua, while training a child in the swimming pool.

"That's why we are trying to integrate many sport activities in this camp and teach children to pronounce some important words," he added.

Mushtaha hopes to establish a particular club for children with ASD, which will implement many treatment programs including swimming and providing the children with psychological support. Enditem

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