Zumba classes are Soulcial Trust’s first project for children with mental disability. They take place every Wednesday and Friday morning, thanks to a partnership with Grace House Community Centre and Safe Haven Medical Outreach. This adaptive sport activity allows children with special needs to get access to sport and express themselves through dance. The Zumba sessions also allow the parents, teachers and children to have fun together. It strengthens the bond between the children and their families, allowing them to spend time together and forget about the disability for an hour every week.
What is autism ?
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.
Mental disabilities in Cambodia
In Cambodia, children with mental disabilities typically led isolated lives. Greatly stigmatized even within their own families, Cambodian children with disabilities had nearly no options for education, therapy, or social interaction. They are often isolated, as their parents keep them hidden from society. The shame of having a “different” child also leads families to segregate themselves from their community, or neglect their child out of frustration or a lack of resources. They may die prematurely due to lack specialist care, neglect or abandonment. Most parents first seek out traditional healers and Buddhist monks to treat their intellectually disabled children. Many women believe their child’s disability is the result of karmic retribution due to a wrongdoing in a past life. The autistic community in Cambodia remains largely unrecognised and under-served. Public schools have no programs or teachers trained to care for autistic children’s specific needs, and there is only a handful of private schools for disability in the country.
This is why we are collaborating with such organizations to give those kids with special needs a chance to deepen their self-construction, by enabling them to do a physical and social activity.
In this article, you will learn more about our Dance Therapy and the way it has an impact on the kids under the spectrum of autism.
Effectiveness of Dance Therapy on children with mental disabilities
Dance Therapy is the therapeutic use of dance and movement to improve or treat various psychological or emotional challenges. Dance Therapy is based on the idea that motion and emotion are interconnected and you can express or release your emotional energy through movement. This form of expression is not talk-based, which suits perfectly the specific needs of autistic children.
Children with autism could have huge benefits from Dance Therapy, as they often do not have awareness of their own mind and body. Since, Zumba classes helps them in re-establishing this mind-body connection and guide them to the path of harmony and independence.
The therapy leads to a lot of positive effects, such as a better body awareness, more interpersonal and communications skills, and a general feeling of well-being.
The sessions encourage the children to participate in a group activity, to interact with their peers – children who look like them – and also their family, in a different context than the everyday routine.
On the occasion of Autism Awareness Month, we asked a few questions to Miwako and Naoko, who lead the Adaptive Zumba classes for Soulcial Trust. Let’s learn more about the amazing job you are doing with the children during your classes and outside!
Hi Naoko and Miwako! Can you please introduce yourself a little bit?
Miwako: I have a Khmer family and I have been living in Cambodia for about 15 years. I love to dance with kids!
Naoko: I used to join Aerobics for 10 years, and then I met Zumba and I totally enjoyed it and needed in my life. I started thinking that I would love to spread this activity, especially to joyful Khmer people. Now, I am so happy to teach Zumba in Cambodia and to share my passion with kids and grown-ups!
Can you describe what is an Adaptive Zumba session? In which way working with children with disabilities is different?
Miwako: The classes are quite different from the ones we give to adults. It is hard for us to evaluate how much students understand our session. However, they express their feelings and understanding by their actions or on their faces, which looks joyful most of the time, and it makes us happy!
Naoko: It is not exactly the usual Zumba class with a lot of dancing, but it is a totally enjoyable session too. The kids move their body with music and it is the most important! However, it is not only for kids, but also for their parents, to make them feel more open and move together!
You usually teach Zumba for adults. How do you adapt your sessions for kids with special needs?
Miwako: We make the choreography easier for the kids because they can keep their concentration for a shorter time than adults. So, we include some games, songs and talking during the session, so they don’t have to focus for to long in a row.
Naoko: We choose more pop and rhythmical songs for kids. They enjoy it more and it becomes easier and natural to move with this kind of catchy music.
What do you think Zumba bring to those particular children?
Miwako and Naoko: Zumba improves their learning ability, makes them practice to take a rhythm via enjoying the music, develops the body system, opens their minds, and facilitates connection with others.
Did you see improvements among the children since you started 1 year ago?
Miwako: Sure, there are a lot. Zumba opened their minds. During the first sessions, they were all so shy and did not have any reactions. But day by day, they opened up and started dancing. They developed a connection with the others: they dance together, communicate with each others, and they improved their dancing skills! They remember perfectly the choregraphies and songs, and sometimes they request the musics they like the most!
Naoko: Of course! As Miwako already said, there is an overall improvement on many aspects. Parents even told us that they listen to Zumba songs on their own and dance at their house! This is so nice!
From your personal point of view, do you think that working with children with mental disabilities bring you something in return?
Miwako: Yes, sure! I receive encouragement and warmth through their smile, improvements, and teaching Zumba to children with disabilities also challenges my mind.
Naoko: YES! The kids and their parents always make me want to challenge myself more to create the best Zumba sessions for them.
Do the kids have a favorite song or move? We heard Baby Shark is really appreciated 🙂
Miwako: Yes, they absolutely love ”Baby Shark”!!!
Naoko: They really like up-tempo songs for jumps! And girls love “How far I’ll go”, a Disney song from Moana we use in our cool down.
Can you share with us your best memory about the Zumba classes?
Miwako: My best memory is when one of the kids who were always out of the Zumba class area at the beginning, came to dance with us. It meant he opened his mind and it was so rewarding for me!
Naoko: What I prefered is that at first, parents were just looking at our dancing moves from the side with confused faces. But now, they join and dance with a big smile! We can feel that we also achieved something with them through our Zumba sessions!
We hope this article and interview gave you a better understanding of what is autism and how we work with children with mental disabilities in Cambodia. Naoko and Miwako will keep doing a great job with the kids, to give them a chance to improve and express themselves in a fun atmosphere!