By Sara Grace C. Fojas
Images by Noel Pabalate
Kids love playtime—running outside the front yard, playing with their friend, exploring the world. But for Jared James Mendoza and Ken Alger Mendoza, playtime is an activity they need to prepare for. Jared is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder while Ken has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Both are students at Pasay City SPED Center.
“If the students have an outside activity, we have to prepare them and tell them regularly that there will be lots of people, or that the audio might be louder than normal. You are putting them outside their usual routine and comfort zone which is stressful for them, so we need to have them prepared to avoid tantrums,” says Marinil D. Juan, Pasay City SPED Center teacher.
But playtime is still a big part of a child’s upbringing. It provides tremendous learning opportunities and gives many valuable benefits in development of physical, emotional, social, and cognitive skills.
“Playing is still important for kids like Jared and Ken because they are able to get out of their box and, exposed to different people, they learn how to socialize. Kids like them shouldn’t be kept inside the house. They should be doing what normal kids are doing,” says Teacher Marinil.
During De La Salle University’s For the Kids (DLSU-FTK)specialized mini-Olympics for children with special needs, Ken and Jared had the time of their lives playing with other kids during the different games, sports, and at the inflatables.
“I really enjoyed the day. I played with the ball, went down the slide, had my face painted, and had an animal balloon,” says nine-year-old Ken.
Jared, on the other hand, really had fun at bowling. “I also played with the ball but my favorite was bowling,” says 10-year-old Jared.
DLSU-FTK is an annual activity of DLSU’s Center for Social Concern and Action and its volunteer arm, the Lasallian Outreach and Volunteer Effort (COSCA LOVE) for various special education centers around the metropolis. Under the theme “FTK Aloha: Beyond the Horizon,” it aims to provide a fun and learning experience for children ages five to 12 years old with varied physical, emotional, and mental difficulties and challenges.
“DLSU-FTK started in 1984 at La Salle Green Hills. It’s been an annual institutional event where we contact different SPED centers and then we get them to bring their children to the campus and we have different volunteers from the Lasallian community to play with them and be their ates and kuyas for the day,” says Luke Fernandez of DLSU-COSCA.
Around 600 children with special needs and 800 volunteers composed of students, personnel, and Special Education (SPED) teachers from the participating centers joined the event at the Henry Sy Sr. Hall Grounds of DLSU.
Ken and Jared are called special children for a reason, not because of their disabilities but because of the extraordinary things they can do at their young age.
“Jared is now promoted to transition academic wherein the curriculum he is into is mimicking what it’s like in a normal classroom. Ken, on the other hand, is in mainstream grade 1 this coming school year. We don’t keep them forever. If the teacher sees that they can handle the academic work and their behavior has improved then they can already be enrolled in the typically developing classroom,” says teacher Marinil.
Jared is also into coding where he animates the objects he created in MS paint.
“It depends on his mood, if he really wants to do it. His dad is a graphic artist, which is what made him really interested in drawing and coding. The DLSU-FTK helps them to play like the other children and helps develop their social skills,” says Jared’s mother, Gina Mendoza.