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Children with disabilities gain new skills, become superheroes

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 16 2013 2:06 p.m. MDT

Ben Moss, 10, has Down syndrome. He is enrolled in the CAPES! program at Weber State University. He is learning new skills through games and exercise.

Mike DeBernardo, Deseret News

OGDEN — Twenty-three children enrolled in a special program at Weber State University are turning into their very own superhero.

They are part of the Children’s Adaptive Physical Education Society, or CAPES!

It’s a 10-week program to help children with disabilities, ages 5 to 12, come out of their shell and learn new skills through games and exercise.

Ten-year-old Ben Moss has Down syndrome. Sometimes doing a simple task can be difficult, but his instructors with CAPES! help him learn new skills by combining exercise and playing games in and out of the swimming pool.

“I have seen him do better on the instruction than the first week; he just wanted to hurry and do it without listening,” said Ben’s mother, Jill Moss.

Ben and 22 other children each have their own disability to deal with, but can relate to one another, as can James Zagrodnik, the creator of CAPES!

"I didn't really learn how to speak until I was 10-year-old,” Zagrodnik said.

He has dyslexia and learning disabilities and said he understands that children with disabilities can feel isolated and insecure. The program aims to change that by teaching children new skills and giving them the confidence they need to become more independent.

"If they work on these base skills, they'll be able to develop more complex skills,” Zagrodnik said. “By developing more complex skills, they’ll become more independent."

Many times, people tend to put restrictions or limits on a child with disabilities, and Zagrodnik said he wanted to change that. He chose the acronym CAPES! because he wants children to think of themselves as superheroes who wear capes and perform amazing feats.

The games and exercises help the children with social interactions, balance, dexterity, motor skills, strength and fitness over the span of 10 weeks.

The other goal of the program is to give Weber State University students an opportunity to interact with children with disabilities, to overcome their own fear they may have with working with children with disabilities, to learn how different kinds of students learn and how to learn to teach different kinds of students, he said.

Twenty-five Weber State students work with the children once a week, one on one.

Bryson Vanleeuwen has autism. His mother, Angela Vanleeuwen, said he has never been able to stick with a program until now.

"We’ve tried different things like soccer, and he just never could really grasp it,” she said.

The children have been in the program now for four weeks, and Zagrodnik has seen a lot of progress. Some of the children who were once afraid of getting in the water are now in chest deep in water. He is also seeing an improvement in motor skills and balance.

The Children’s Adaptive Physical Education Society program runs through Nov. 26. The next session will be during spring semester and dates will be announced sometime in early November.

Zagrodnik anticipates many of his current students will enroll in the program year after year.

At the end of the program, each child will graduate with his or her own cape complete with patches for various achievements.

For more information, contact Zagrodnik at 801-626-7084 or by email at jameszagrodnik@weber.edu.

Contributing: Devon Dolan

Email: vvo-duc@deseretnews.com

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