Creative play for special children

  • Sonoma State University's kinesiology professor Elaine McHugh, second from left, Jazlyn LeClair, 16, left, assists in working the electric device while LeClair's grandmother Mimi Schott, right, and her service dog watch at Saturday Sidekicks recreational play program for kids with disabilities held at SSU.

Jazlyn LeClair, her head drooping and body hunched over, was bushed by the end of her play session Saturday at Sonoma State University.

It had been a busy hour, what with all the balls flying around, kids screaming and running and Jazlyn scooting around the courtyard outside the Fieldhouse gym.

For the 16-year-old Rohnert Park girl born with cerebral palsy that curtails her physical control and movement, just sitting upright in her framed supportive harness is taxing, her grandmother said.

But thanks to an SSU program for special-needs kids, Jazlyn has the opportunity to get out and play with other kids, some of them using specialized equipment and all matched one-on-one with student volunteers.

Among that unique gear are electronic and mechanical devices designed by SSU engineering students that allow Jazlyn and other children to throw and kick balls, activities they otherwise could only dream of doing.

Jazlyn's been going to Saturday Sidekicks since she was 5. She's grown up with it as a regular part of her life, like many others who participate.

"It's great, because she interacts with other kids, and she loves it," said Mimi Schott, Jazlyn's grandmother and guardian. "We're here to socialize, to be with the other kids, be active and have fun."

Founded by Elaine McHugh, chairwoman of the university's kinesiology department, the program provides a supportive environment for about three dozen children ages 5 and up who have a variety of disabilities, including Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy and others.

But from the shrieking laughter resounding in the gym Saturday, the first day of the spring semester session, it would be impossible to tell the difference from any other group of youngsters at play — except for the inventiveness of some of the equipment they use, including a swinging contraption with a long sweeping path from the gym ceiling that fits two or more kids at a time.

Several college students run through the gym towing squealing playmates on scooters, while a camping tent filled with soft rubber balls and a large cardboard carton labeled "Where the Wild Things Live" provide quieter fun.

© The Press Democrat |  Terms of Service |  Privacy Policy |  Jobs With Us |  RSS |  Advertising |  Sonoma Media Investments |  Place an Ad
Switch to our Mobile View