WITH the opening of We Rock The Spectrum (WRTS), a US-based special-needs gym franchise, at Evolve Concept Mall, Ara Damansara, there is finally a place where autistic children can play with their friends without worry.
WRTS provides children of all abilities with a place in which to play and grow together.
The gym at Evolve Concept Mall offers 10 uniquely designed therapy-based equipment to help children improve their sensory stimulation and neural development, namely zip line, zip box with slide, crash pit, trampoline, tunnel, carpet swing, hammock swing, climbing structure, bolster swing and swivel rotators.
An instructor keeping a close watch on a child whizzing past on a Zip Lin. This equipment helps children to build upper extremity strength and muscle endurance.
Co-owned by Nori Abdullah — the wife of Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar — Hana Jamaluddin and Rahmah Mahmood, the gym is a labour of love stemming from personal experiences.
Nori, who is trained to look after the needs of her sons, Jibriel, who is neurotypical, and Timor, who is on the autism spectrum, said the gym was beneficial for both child and parent.
“A lot of kids with autism are either under-sensitised to certain things or overly sensitised.
“My son Timor is not sensitive to deep pressure, and that is why he loves the trampoline because he likes the deep sensation when he bounces or jumps
Children can have a swinging time on the different types of swings, namely the carpet, bolster and hammock swings – all great motor planning and motor sequencing activities.
“On the other hand, he is hypersensitive to noise and will close his ears in a crowded environment. So he needs different kinds of stimulants to help him balance out the pressure and process experiences,” she said.
According to Nori, the gym made an ideal space for such children because it offered a variety of equipment in a large space.
“When we talk about sensory processing, there is a sensory diet that focuses on how much sensory input they need to experience. And they need to have that diet of physical activity every day to help them be more focused and calm.
“Most people can afford to have one or two gym equipment at home, like how we have a trampoline at home. But my son, if he doesn’t get his physical activity every day, he becomes quite unsettled.
“Activity and exercise for any child whether or not they are on the (autism) spectrum is needed, as much as possible,” she said.
“Here at the gym there are more varieties of equipment, so we are able to address different needs. What is important is for parents to get to know us first, and the trust will grow with their experience seeing people who are trained spending time with their children and helping them.
“Of course, it’s always best for parents to join their children at the gym and play with them,” Nori said.
Climbing structures can help the children to enhance their body awareness, body scheme and bilabial coordination.
Speaking as a father to two sons on the autism spectrum, Khairy recalled how he stumbled upon WRTS during a family holiday in Los Angeles.
“In the summer of 2005, I was driving around Woodland Hills looking for an activity that both my sons would enjoy.
“When I found this gym, I was impressed at how comfortable it was for my sons, and even for me. It was a rare place where I did not have to apologise if my children invaded another children’s space,” he said.
“We went to the gym in Woodland Hills and also in Santa Monica, and both places gave us that same joy. I immediately told Nori that we need to have such a gym in Malaysia.
“It is a safe environment where our kids can play with other children, and we’re in a space that adheres to their needs.
“In the long run, we hope to find ways to sponsor more kids so they can have their occupational therapy here at the gym and also to enjoy the facilities,” said Khairy.
We Rock the Spectrum’s mission reverberates personally with each of the owners.
The children can jump or sit on the trampoline with the balls to improve their proprioceptive sense for body movement.
Rahmah has many friends and family members who have special needs children. Her own son struggled with academic and sensory processing difficulties while growing up.
“Not too long ago, Malaysia recognised that in this world out of six children, one child is born of within the spectrum of autism,” she said.
“We do not have enough facilities to help these children but the Government is doing its best, and being a citizen, we are affected by having relatives or friends that are diagnosed with disabilities. It’s important to not only provide this resource to Malaysians but also to use WRTS as an opportunity to highlight the concerns and difficulties faced by families who have children with special needs.
“Here, the children do not realise that they are actually receiving therapy through playing games. In this way, we help make the parents and children deal with the issue in a more acceptable way,” Rahmah said.
Khairy (left) at the launch of We Rock The Spectrum Kid‘s Gym with members and their children.
Each WRTS gym features uniquely designed therapeutic equipment that promote learning, development and sensory-safe play.
“My six-year-old son, Umar, has difficulties in walking, cycling and other movements that require him to use the lower parts of his body.” said Hana Sakina Izham.
“This is exactly what I am looking for. This gym has a lot of physical activities which is suitable for my special son,” she added.
The admission fee of WRTS Malaysia is RM48 per child, packages are also available for frequent visits.