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Montreal Families

Program for kids with special needs

When in-person programs ended abruptly in March 2020 because of the pandemic, the Montreal Centre for Learning Disabilities (MCLD) quickly shifted its focus to offer online support to those in its network. As a replacement for the weekly AQUA K.I.D.S. after-school socialization and skill-building program, they created CYBER K.I.D.S., a virtual program where kids could develop relationship-building skills in a safe and nurturing environment.

“We know our kids, and we knew that this time would be particularly challenging for them,” said Hana MacDougall, co-director and program coordinator of CYBER K.I.D.S. “We wanted to be able to offer them an opportunity to reconnect with those friends who they don’t often see during the school year, but who they would have seen during AQUA K.I.D.S. on Friday nights. We also wanted to be able to offer something that a child would enjoy and that would give parents a break.”

While the program was first offered last summer and fall to children already enrolled with the centre, registration for the third edition of the 10-week program is open to all.

Develop social skills and have fun

Children aged 6-16  with learning disabilities, ADHD, and mild autism spectrum disorder are welcome to join the Friday evening sessions, where weekly themes and activities will keep them engaged as they build relationships, develop social skills with their peers, and hopefully have fun.

The weekly 45-minute sessions are guided by MacDougall and fellow program coordinator Christopher Simeone. Before the first session, MacDougall, a clinical research coordinator, and Simeone, a behaviour specialist with the English Montreal School Board, coordinate a call or Zoom chat with parents to discuss the child’s needs. “The biggest thing we screen for is can they be engaged on a video call,” Simeone said. “We’re willing to take on children who are non-verbal, but the parents may need to be there as a chaperone.”

What to expect

At the session, children are welcomed and given the opportunity to get to know each other. “Talking about Pokémon usually starts things off right away,” Simeone said. Another way to get kids engaged is with a scavenger hunt activity, where, for example, a search for a red item can lead to a talk about volcanoes. An activity involving definitions allows kids to express their knowledge about certain words or facts.

After registering for the program, children receive an activity bag delivered to their home before the first class. “We show them how to do an activity and sometimes we’ll show the end result so they’re interested in getting involved.” After a review of the previous activities and what they’ve learned, children will get up and move around, and stretch. The session wraps up with what will be happening the following week.

The coordinators hope to continue the online program even after in-person activities restart. MacDougall said it means that kids can participate even if the parents can’t bring them to the N.D.G. YMCA.

The next 10-week session runs from March 12 to May 14, 2021 and a fourth session is scheduled to begin in July.

Cost: $75 per child

Participants need a reliable internet connection and a free Zoom account. Any material required for the sessions will be delivered beforehand and is included in the program fee.

Registration numbers are limited, for more information please see the website at ldmontreal.ca/cyber-kids-program/ or get in touch with the program coordinators at cyberkidsmontreal@gmail.com.

About the Montreal Centre for Learning Disabilities

Since 1966, the Montreal Centre for Learning Disabilities (MCLD) has been providing support and information for children and adults who have learning disabilities and/or ADHD. Read more about the not-for-profit and its team of volunteers at ldmontreal.ca/about/

Contact the Centre for more information on available programs and to stay up-to-date with events such as webinars, parent conferences and support groups, workshops, their ambassador program, and more.

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