"Wake up, Shawna," Allison prompted. "Why don't you come play this game with us?" Shawna struggled to open her eyes as her head slumped down on the table in Cunningham's Recreation Center. Just a bit earlier, she'd been running around her classroom, jumping on top of chairs; but now the summer heat had stopped her in her tracks.
Like many kids on the autism spectrum, Shawna is very sensitive to extreme temperatures. When a room is too hot, she finds it hard to stay awake. When it's too cold, she's a whirlwind, constantly fidgeting and moving around. Unable to express her thoughts and feelings verbally, she often resorts to aggressive behavior as her form of communication.
"Shawna couldn't focus for more than five minutes when she first came to Cunningham," Allison, her recreation therapist, said, "but last week, she participated in a group activity for over 45 minutes with no complaints."
Cunningham's Special Therapies team helps kids like Shawna learn coping mechanisms and build interpersonal skills. Physical activity and cooperative games reduce anxiety and teach teamwork and sportsmanship. Music therapy helps kids regulate behavior and tap into their emotions in a safe way, while art projects are another form of therapy that increases self-awareness.
Shawna has made great progress in less than ideal circumstances. The recreation building, which she visits three or four times a day, has inadequate heating and cooling control so the gym, art and music therapy areas are extremely hot in the summer and cold in the winter. In some rooms, because there are no windows, it can be dark and stuffy. During a heavy rain, some therapy sessions have to be canceled because of flooding. With the opening of our new Education and Recreation Center (ERC) in 2018, kids like Shawna will have a state-of-the-art facility for both academic and therapeutic activities.
The new recreation area will include a gymnasium, named for long time donors Lou and Mary Henson, with locker rooms and a fitness room; a Music therapy room and an Art therapy room; all designed to meet the special needs of Cunningham kids.
We have passed the halfway mark in our campaign to raise $8.5 million to build the ERC but still need $3.8 million to reach our goal. Every gift counts so please consider what you can do to help the kids at Cunningham see education in a whole new way. For more information, contact Tim Manard at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 217.337.9071.