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A Gym for Children with Special Needs in New York City

Abstract

This document contains a plan for setting up and running a sensory gym for children with special needs in New York City. The target market is children below the age of 18 years, suffering from a range of disabilities, including autism, speech, and physical disabilities. Based on individualized needs assessment plans, different types of therapies will be offered at the facility, including occupation, speech, and physical therapy services. To provide optimum care to clients, this document highlights plans to hire licensed clinicians to run the sensory gym facility with the support of pediatricians, parents, teachers, and psychologists, as stakeholders involved in the provision of holistic learning. Suggestions are made to equip them with the tools and skills to cater to the unique needs of children with disability based on the administration of the three forms of therapies identified above. The new gym would be modeled as a space for children to grow and play, and learn in a safe, fun, clean, and warm environment. The idea behind setting up the facility is to provide children suffering from sensory development issues with stimuli that would help them enjoy the benefits of physical exercises in the same manner as their counterparts who do not have disability do. Such interventions can help the children to decrease their anxiety levels and make them more confident in pursuing their personal or career goals.

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Introduction

Background

Physical wellness is good not only for children with special needs but also for adults as well. Studies that have focused on children with disability, as a special group of patients, suggest that regular physical activity is associated with higher levels of muscular endurance and a low risk for developing cardiovascular diseases (Lim et al., 2021; McAbee, 2017). This statement emerges from the premise that specific or resistive body movements are good for children who have sensory challenges or issues. Besides promoting the overall health and functions of the body, regular physical exercises are also associated with the slow progression of mental health diseases, which is common among children who suffer from intellectual challenges (Lim et al., 2021; McAbee, 2017). Therefore, regardless of one’s disability, they should take part in physical exercises to improve their overall health and wellbeing. However, children with special needs are often disadvantaged in this regard because of spatial, cognitive, or motor limitations.

The challenges brought by special needs could be a cause of stress for families that have children exhibiting symptoms or signs of any type of disability. Their main concern is the potential inability of their children to experience major milestones in life because of their physical or mental challenges. Consequently, scholars define special needs based on what children can and cannot do (McAbee, 2017; Lim et al., 2021). Alternatively, others use supplementary sub-classifications, such as “unmet milestones” or “experiences denied” as additional criteria for defining special needs (Jacobs & McCormack, 2011). Regardless of the method used, special needs challenges could negatively affect family wellbeing. However, this outcome does not have to be the case because these children could receive support through remedial programs in specialized gym that would help them to overcome or minimize the impact of their disabilities on their health and wellbeing.

For purposes of this study, children with special needs refer to a category of people who have developmental challenges, ranging from those that can be mitigated to those that can impair their growth and development for life. Evidence from McAbee (2017) supports the view that their special needs commonly manifest in developmental challenges and mental conditions that affect their ability to learn and play like their counterparts who suffer no disability do. Consequently, a gap in developmental experiences arises among children with special needs and those who do not have such challenges.

This gap is visible in the lack of physical spaces within community settings that can accommodate their disabilities, including gyms, recreational, and sports facilities. Consequently, with the lack of spaces to exercise and play safely, children with special needs are exposed to several behavioral and health challenges that affects their wellbeing. For example, Lim et al. (2021) report that the absence of physical spaces to exercise makes children with special needs less likely to engage in sustained or vigorous exercises compared to their counterparts who do not suffer similar disabilities. Research also shows that children who have special needs tend to be weaker than their counterparts who do not have similar disabilities (McAbee, 2017). They also suggest that the affected children suffer from fatigue more than their non-disabled counterparts do.

Children with chronic diseases provide the strongest evidence of the relationship between the lack of physical exercises and poor health outcomes outcome because the failure to exercise exposes them to a litany of health conditions associated with sedentary lifestyles (Jacobs & McCormack, 2011). Therefore, the lack of physical spaces to exercise is a challenge to the health and developmental growth of children with special needs due to its association with poor mental and physical health outcomes. If this situation persists, children with special needs will continue to be excluded from enjoying the health benefits of physical exercises, which their non-disabled counterparts do, thereby further exposing them to poor mental and physical health outcomes. Consequently, there is a need to provide sensory gyms to allow children with specialized needs to exercise and play as their non-disabled counterparts do.

Aim

This thesis aims to setup a private pay and publicly funded gym facility in New York to serve the needs of children with special needs requirements. The facility will be a sensory gym for children below the age of 18 years, suffering from a range of disabilities, including autism, speech, and physical disabilities. Based on individualized needs assessment plans, different types of therapies will be offered to several groups of children at the facility, including occupation, speech, and physical therapy services. To provide optimum care to clients, this document highlights important information relating to the business plan, including an analysis of the competition, marketing activities that will be completed to support the firm, and a human resource plan for managing it.

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Literature Review

Introduction

This section of the literature contains a review of what other scholars have written about the specific area of interest. Key sections of this chapter will explain concepts related to the proposed business, including the classification of special needs and legal arguments for accommodating children with who suffer from them. The aim is to understand the legal framework supporting the business’s operations, including the potential for funding its activities. In the second part of this review, a greater emphasis will be made to explain how sensory integration works and the opportunities that exist in developing a multi-sensory gym facility in New York City to cater to the needs of children with special needs.

Classification of Special Needs

As highlighted in the first chapter of this document, special needs refer to a range of disabilities affecting children’s development. It is estimated that about 18.5% of children in America have special needs requirements (PBWS, 2020). It means that they experience developmental challenges, which other students do not have to experience. According to PBWS (2020), four major types of special needs affect children and they appear in table 1 below:

Type of Disability Description
Physical Needs Special needs children who suffer from physical challenges may manifest different symptoms impeding their mobility or ability to carry out daily physical functions, such as movement. Such conditions are attributed to different classes of diseases, including muscular dystrophy and epilepsy.
Development Needs There are various types of developmental needs observed among children and they include, down syndrome, autism, and dyslexia among others
Behavioral Disability As its name suggests, developmental disability challenges are associated with children’s behaviors. Some common conditions linked with this type of disorder, include bipolar and oppositional defiance conditions.
Sensory Impairment This group of disabilities refers to challenges children may face when one or more of their senses do not work. Some common conditions associated with this type of impairment include blindness, limited hearing, and deafness.

Legal Arguments for Accommodating Children with Special Needs

Catering to the physical needs and requirements of children with special needs is not only a moral argument but also a legal one because America has laws to streamline learning by eliminating all bases for discrimination. These legal instruments are not only relevant to the promotion of inclusive learning in the classroom but also in the physical education setting where children are made to feel part of the greater student body. This outcome is achievable because involving children with special needs in physical activities promotes inclusion. Given that they are often unable to take part in regular physical exercises, being recruited in specialized gyms promotes a sense of inclusivity, thereby supporting their physical and emotional growth. Therefore, children with special needs require specialized services according to laid out rules and policies governing their learning and development activities. So far, about four main laws and statutes are relevant to student learning and development processes. They include:

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): The IDEA Act prepares children with special needs to live an independent life by prohibiting schools from discriminating against them (PBWS, 2020). This law does not only apply to the education of minors in high school education and below but also to those who are seeking higher learning education and employment opportunities. The most relevant part of the law to the current context of this study is its support for “health impaired” children whose stamina and physical strength cannot match those of other students (PBWS, 2020). The process to set up the proposed sensory gym will be founded on this law.

Rehabilitation Act: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is also relevant to the setting up of an independent gym facility in New York City because it requires schools to accommodate the needs of students with special needs (PBWS, 2020). Particularly, this piece of legislation is applicable to children who have significant physical impairments that would hinder their normal functions. Nonetheless, similar to the IDEA, this law also prevents people from discriminating against children with disabilities. Therefore, setting up a gym for children with special needs in New York City promotes its main objectives.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): The ADA was introduced to promote the inclusion of children with psychiatric problems in school activities. Introduced as law in the 1990s, this piece of legislation ensures that children with disability do not experience discrimination at various levels of public life, including business, health, and education. Proponents of the law aim to prevent all forms of discrimination by providing the same rights and opportunities for children with special needs as those enjoyed by their counterparts who do not suffer from the same problem (ADA National Network, 2017). Therefore, it strives to promote equality among children with special needs and those who do not suffer from such challenges. The most relevant articles of this legislation that relate to the process of setting up a gym facility for children with disability are Titles two and three of the law, which focus on the provisions of public services for state and local government authorities, as well as public accommodation and services offered by private entities (ADA National Network, 2017). These areas of the law relate to schedules two and three, respectively, but the latter is more relevant to the development of physical exercising facilities in New York City because it requires private players to accommodate children with disabilities in their places of business, including, gyms, health clubs, sports stadiums, and so forth (ADA National Network, 2017). Title two of the same law also requires state and local government authorities to make their programs and services available to everyone.

No Child Left Behind Act: Introduced in 2001 as an Act of Congress, the No Child Left Behind Act is a piece of legislation designed to streamline achievement gaps between students with special needs and their counterparts who do not have such challenges. The main premise of applying the law is rooted in the development of measurable standards for achievement as a basis for promoting individual learning and developmental outcomes (PBWS, 2020). Although the Act was introduced at a Federal level, states have freedom to implement it based on their unique local circumstances. Therefore, it is relevant to the state of New York as well and provides a legal basis for the development of the proposed new sensory gym.

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Sensory Integration Therapy

Sensory processing disorders emerge among the broader group of neurological problems affecting children with sensory impairments. Psychologists are yet to classify this group of disorders as a definitive diagnosis but there is evidence that children may suffer from over or under sensitivity to various stimuli (Arky, 2020). The body of evidence underpinning sensory impairment studies traces its roots to the works of Dr. John Ayres who claimed that awareness of the body and movement are two senses that needed to be added to the traditional classification of human cognition to get a broader understanding of sensory activities. Awareness of movement is more relevant to the present study because it focuses on vestibular activities, which is the basis for the provision of gym services to special needs children. For example, proprioception receptors found in the human limb enable a person to move or maintain body posture, thereby accounting for a broad sense of disabilities among children who have not fully developed these abilities. Additionally, vestibular receptors found in the human ear also help a person to know their position in space, time, and maintain their balance, thereby accounting for a broader group of disabilities associated with hearing impairments (Arky, 2020). These insights are important in understanding sensory environments responsible for various kinds of disabilities among children.

Lucy Jane Miller has added another eighth sense to the list associated with human functioning and termed it as “interoception” (Arky, 2020). She claims that this eighth sense works by relaying messages about the proper functioning of human organs. Nonetheless, when examined broadly, the eight senses alluded in this analysis help to explain to the human mind what is happening within and outside a person’s environment. However, when these senses fail to work, the feeling can be confusing and overwhelming for a person and especially for children with special needs. Typically, victims of such disabilities may exhibit signs of defensive or compensatory behaviors (Arky, 2020). Hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity to stimuli may also cause such children to throw tantrums and when they feel neglected, they may have a meltdown.

Sensory integration therapy is at the center of gym activities because it helps to address some of the above-mentioned developmental challenges. Different steps are often followed to undertake successful occupational therapy activities and they are described below:

Evaluation: The first step that an occupational therapist would take to treat children with sensory disorders is to conduct a battery of tests to determine their sensory defensiveness. The same tests will determine their sensory cravings and treatment will happen in an environment outfitted with specialized equipment (Arky, 2020). Sensory gyms offer this type of environment and have been successfully used to help train hyperactive children by encouraging them to take part in swinging and spinning exercises to train their brains for better posture. The common reasoning behind its application is that under-sensitive children tend to seek activities that would make them active, while hypersensitive children want to engage in activities that restrain them (Arky, 2020). Sensory gyms that offer these kinds of facilities are often fitted with specialized equipment, such as weighted vests and squeeze machines to provide children with tools for exerting deep and calming pressures on their bodies, which is especially appropriate for children who suffer from tactile defensiveness.

Most parents who have taken their children through such therapies report that they were encouraged to participate in a common routine known as Wilbarger Protocol. It involves the application of pressure on the body using a small brush (Arky, 2020). Additionally, the process may be accompanied by joint compressions that may be done throughout the day. Although the Wilbarger Protocol is the standard treatment for most types of sensory disabilities, the intervention or brush protocols employed may vary depending on a child’s responses or individualized developmental needs.

Competitor Analysis of Gyms in New York

The state of New York has specialized gyms, which offer support and resources for children who suffer from a broad range of disorders. According to Sokol (2015), there are eight sensory gym facilities in New York, including, Jumping Jax, “Small Steps, Big Leaps,” Watch me Grow,” and “Playworks.” They are described below:

Jumping Jax: This is a sensory gym located in upper west side of New York. It provides occupational therapy services, including physical and speech therapies. The sessions are individualized but family involvement is a key part of their program development process. The gym provides swinging and obstacle courses designed to improve a child’s sensory development in a fun environment where play and learning are integrated into common activities. The main services offered at the facility include the provision of vestibular, proprioceptive, and tactile experiences in the use of the gym’s equipment. The therapy sessions offered at the facility are also individualized in terms of duration of treatment, but this outcome is influenced by a patient’s unique needs. Typical sessions take less than one hour and may happen at least once a week.

Small Steps Big Leap: The “Small Steps Big Leaps” gym is based in Southside New York and provides different types of therapy services, including individualized sessions managed by Sidekicks New York City. Each of the therapists who work at the facility has a certificate or license in their respective areas of practice. The competence acquired from these certifications allows the therapists to tailor interventions that specifically address a child’s unique developmental learning needs in a caring and fun environment. Therapists who work at the facility operate in an interdisciplinary manner where synergy is created across different levels of therapy interventions. The goal of pursuing this collaborative strategy is to provide holistic care and services to children with special needs at the facility. Standing on more than 1,000 square feet of property, “Small Steps Big Leaps” does not have more than three therapy sessions occurring at the same time to create adequate room for children to play and have fun. The main goal of maintaining this space is to allow children and teachers to interact in a creative environment. Based on the minimal distractions experienced in this format of interaction, family engagement is optimized.

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Watch Me Grow: Watch me grow is a pediatric therapy center located in the Upper west side of New York. The founder and director of the facility admitted that he designed it to be like an extension of a home (Sokol, 2015). Similar to other gyms identified in this report, the owner also admitted to developing a fun, creative, and professional environment for instructors and children to interact with one another and learn (Sokol, 2015). Physical therapists working at the facility provide individualized therapies, while occupational and speech therapists administer specialized care. The individualized care plans are developed after consulting with parents to identify unique needs of a child and the appropriate gym program.

Play Works: Play Works is another sensory gym facility located in Queens, New York, around the Rego Park area. The facility offers a safe place for children with special needs to improve their learning and developmental goals. The gym’s design is intended to entice children to come in the facility and try out new games and activities. The equipment is set up to provide individualized exercises based on a child’s developmental needs. The gym’s director says that their main differentiating quality is the level of personalized care offered to the children (Sokol, 2015). Since its inception, the firm has maintained a personalized level of care for all its clients and its growth is supported by referrals generated under this arrangement. The gym also includes programs and exercises involving parents as a core stakeholder in a child’s growth. By recognizing the need for children to constantly grow, the learning environment periodically changes based on a child’s individualized needs. The goal is to create an environment where children can constantly grow and learn.

Theraplay: Theraplay is a sensory gym located in the Upper East Side of New York. Being a multidisciplinary sensory gym, it offers different kinds of services to children with special needs, including pediatric and occupational therapy services. The therapists working at the facility appreciate the importance of parental involvelement in a child’s growth and include them at various stages of decision-making. The main goal of forging such partnerships is to ensure the gains made at the gym can be replicated at home. One of the many programs implemented at the facility is social skills development, which is a central part of its speech therapy exercises. Spearheaded by a licensed clinical social worker, the program allows children to play in a safe and secure environment and learn about appropriate social skills that would foster collaboration, while shunning those that inhibit the process. Handwriting classes are also offered at the facility and are spearheaded by the occupational therapist. The “Handwriting without Tears” Program accommodates most of the above-mentioned process (Sokol, 2015). Similar programs have been developed to complement other types of therapies, such as speech and physical.

Special Programs in Occupational Therapy Services (SPOTS): SPOTS has three facilities in New York located in Nyack, Manhattan, and Brooklyn Heights. The business is among the first in the Manhattan area to provide sensory gyms that help parents understand how their children sensory processing activities affect their emotions and behaviors. By tapping into the imaginative and creative abilities of children, SPOTS has designed challenges that encourage children to be focused on their specific disabilities. Each therapist working at the facility holds at least a master’s degree in their relevant field of study and is committed to advancing their knowledge beyond the organizational scope (Sokol, 2015). Therefore, there is a strict recruitment policy plan for the gym, which attracts only the best talents in the business.

The Ability Center: The ability Center is another sensory gym facility in New York located in Marine Park Section of South Brooklyn and owned by a married couple who are occupational therapists. Children at the facility receive a range of services, including occupation, speech, and physical therapies. Today, the gym is a state-of-the-art facility where children can play safely with their families. They engage in different kinds of activities and games when at the facility, including zip lining, ball pits, swinging, and the likes. The main differentiating factor about this gym, compared to the others, is its enrolment policy of children under the age of 10 years (Sokol, 2015). It provides children and parents access to a safe environment where they can openly interact with one another and in a playful and safe environment.

Smile Center: Two therapists living and working in New York started The Smile Center. The 9,000 square foot facility helps children with special needs to improve their physical health using a bottom-up approach that is predicated on three pillars (i) neuro-developmental, (ii) treatment, sensory integration, and (iii) relationship-based work (Sokol, 2015). These three pillars of development are integral to a child’s growth. The main differentiating feature associated with this gym is its therapy methodology; it focuses on the root cause of the problem –bottom-up model of development, as opposed to the ineffective top-down model that has been practiced in the past. An early intervention program is accommodated at the facility, while employees have expletive knowledge in managing toddlers and infants.

Support by Design: Established in 1998, Support by Design is a private care facility located in Tribeca, Lower Manhattan (Support by Design, 2021). It is intended to provide evaluation and treatment services for pre-teen children suffering from physical and speech disabilities. Various kinds of therapies are offered at the location, including speech, occupational, physical-language, and speech-language (Support by Design, 2021). The organization works with partners in the business, such as early intervention agencies and the department of education, in the provision of the above-mentioned services (Support by Design, 2021). Collectively, this sensory gym, among others highlighted above, will offer substitute services to the proposed gym, thereby acting as a direct competitor of the yet to be established sensory gym.

Summary

Given the multiplicity of sensory gyms in New York, it is important to distinguish key features of the new gym and highlights its value to the overall body of rehabilitation facilities in the city designed to cater to special needs children. Therefore, there is need to create a robust plan of setting up and running the new gym in a way that adds value to the expanding network of gym services for special children in New York.

Methodology

Introduction

In this chapter, techniques used to gather and develop data relating to the development of the proposed gym will be highlighted. Key sections of this analysis will highlight the ethical considerations for obtaining research data, research design, and data collection techniques. Overall, the techniques adopted were weighed according to their relevance in gathering insights and knowledge relating to the development of gyms for children with special needs in New York City.

Design

This study will use a case study approach to investigate the research issue by focusing on New York City as the preferred locality for setting up the gym facility. Therefore, the marketing plan, including issues relating to advertisement, pricing and funding will be developed with the jurisdictional limits of New York in mind. The main aim of using the case study approach is to provide a contextualized understanding of the business based on the socioeconomic characteristics of the market.

Data

Data was collected using secondary research; meaning that information was sourced form published data. Notably, pieces of information relating to the market dynamics of New York, including the population of children who suffer from disability, availability of substitute businesses, and funding opportunities were obtained in this manner.

Ethical Considerations

Given that human subjects are involved in setting up and running the gym, the need for considering the ethical implications of their participation is critical to the success of the study. Based on this background, the confidentiality and rights of the families involved will be secured and protected. Similarly, their involvement in the gym programs will be voluntary as there will be no coercion or incentives given to the participants to take part in its activities.

Gym Plan

Introduction

This section of the document outlines key tenets of the gym plan that are relevant to processing, setting up, and running the business. Key issues highlighted will be services offered, human resource, funding, management, and recruitment plans.

Services Offered

The gym facility will offer different types of services to children with special needs, including occupational, physical, and speech therapies as discussed below:

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy activities include those that have assessment or intervention-based practices to help children with special needs to recover from their developmental challenges or maintain the operationalization of meaningful activities despite their disabilities. These therapy services will be offered to children who have severe motor skills and will be performed by a resident occupational therapists supported by one or more assistants. Occupational therapy services will be offered to children who have different types of special needs, including mental challenges, physical disabilities, and impairments. The gym will offer remedial services to this group of children, including injury rehabilitation to enable them participate fully in their school or educational programs. Occupational therapy interventions will include activities that take into account several factors relating to a child’s developmental and learning needs. They include core body strength, gross motor skills, sensory monitoring, organization of tasks, and use of oral structures for eating. The facilities and services offered at the gym will be geared towards improving the aforementioned areas of evaluation in an age-appropriate manner. The occupational therapy services are designed to address key areas of development through playful interactions between children and teachers/therapists. School-based and home-based activities will also be included as supplementary activities at the gym facility to create a conducive learning environment both at the facility and at home.

Physical Therapy

Physiotherapy services offered at the gym will be designed to strengthen weak muscles. Additional exercises will be calibrated to correct muscle imbalances and improve neural flexibility to make the children more agile and adaptable to the proper functioning of their limbs. These types of exercises are designed to promote healing by increasing blood flow to specific areas of the body that are in short supply. From a neurological standpoint, these activities would help to rewire the brain so that children can better respond to sensory inputs. Doing so will, help them to better make sense of the world.

Speech Therapy

Speech therapy services will be designed to address the unique needs of children who have difficulty communicating, eating, or drinking. The exercises involved may include visual games aimed at improving memory and attention. The same exercises could involve games intended to generate speech. Vocal exercises and word-retrieval games will also be integrated in the gym’s programs to help this subcategory of special needs students.

Target Population

Market Size and Segments

According to the Information and Reporting Services (2020), there are about 500,000 students under the age of 18 with special needs in New York. Under the Federal category of special needs, children who have learning disabilities account for about 33% of all school-going children, thereby forming the largest category of students with special needs in the state (Information and Reporting Services, 2020). The sensory gym facility will target this population of children.

The target population will be classified according to age, whereby admission will be open to only those who are below 18 years and coming from New York. This means that the target population is a minor, living in New York City who has some type of disability. Specifically, children whose disabilities can be remedied through occupation, speech, or physical therapies will be given first priority.

Competitor Review

Broadly, several gyms and facilities available in New York City and highlighted in section two of this study could compete with the one proposed. Their main point of convergence is the management of stakeholders and the involvement of parents in the health and wellbeing of children. The proposed gym plan will be different from those mentioned because of the range of services it will offer to different groups of children with special needs. For example, unlike other gyms that have an age-criterion of enrolment for children and infants below seven years, the present one will enroll children who are between 0 and 18 years. This implies a broader assortment of children who can take part in the gym’s activities. To accommodate them, a range of games and equipment will be provided.

Marketing Plan

The aim of the marketing plan is to determine what sets the gym apart from all others in the industry. A key part of the marketing plan is centered on identifying the most distinguishing feature of the business. This involves packaging the main value offering for the business so that customers can understand how different the gym is different from the competition. To actualize this marketing plan, selective advertising will be applied via social media marketing platforms to groups of students or families that have children with special needs, such as autistic disorders. The main goal of creating targeted advertisements is to get a high return on investments. At the same time, professional help will be leveraged to increase awareness about the gym’s existence. This plan involves seeking partnerships and collaborations with agencies that have children with special needs and can refer parents to the facility.

The marketing plan will include a combination of digital and traditional tools of marketing. The traditional tools will include signage, radio, and advertisements in a local daily. This type of promotion is designed to get the attention of underprivileged communities in New York who may not be able to equip their homes with the resources and equipment needed for special needs children. Comparatively, the digital marketing plan will include a combination of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter platforms. Trainer blog content will be posted on these digital marketing platforms and a website launched and operated as the main digital center for the management of gym activities. The aim of this marketing plan is to promote the gym’s activities to families who have children with special needs. Young adult families will form the majority of the target population because the young children are targeted. On Saturdays, an open house where teachers, parents, and student mingle and exchange ideas on how better to manage the developmental challenges of the children will be set up.

Human Resource Plan

Managing the gym’s activities requires careful supervision from different groups of professionals who will be involved in providing services to the children. The need to have a robust supervision plan was highlighted by Costa (2007) who tied it to the importance of fieldwork education, as a prerequisite to the development of effective occupational therapy programs. The promotion of fieldwork education and supervision in the gym setup will help to promote active learning experiences for the children with special needs. Professionals will form the bulk of employees working at the facility. For example, the services of clinicians with licenses will be sought as a category of employees working at the business. The main administrative positions relevant to the management of the gym are highlighted below:

Occupational Therapy Manager: The field of occupational therapy is highly respected, thereby forming the foundation for the development of the gym programs. This is because occupational therapy services are often offered to patients with the recognition that they get the highest quality of care (Jacobs & McCormack, 2011). Therefore, the services and programs offered at the gym facility will be developed with this principle in mind. This principle may be rooted in the occupational therapy standards of ethics and practice that guide the practice at various levels of integration. The changing healthcare environment is primarily responsible for the need for occupational therapy managers to play an active role in ensuring healthcare plans and programs are effectively implemented (Brandt, 2016). This is because new tools and developments in the provision of healthcare services have been developed and can be used to mitigate some of the issues that have been affecting the practice for a long time. At the same time, the changing landscape in the healthcare environment will require occupational therapy managers to be more creative in seeking funding, developing programs, promoting diversity among other best practices that would be critical for the survival of the gym facility.

Physical Therapist: A physical education teacher could be a good selection for the physical therapist position. Particularly, he or she would be best suited if they have an adaptive degree that suits the requisite area of interest. Pladson (2012) argues that merging skills and special needs requirements in this manner would increase enrolment levels and meet the requirement for all children to receive high quality care. The human resource plan will also be designed to allow instructors to participate in self-assessment exercises that would provide the basis for the future improvement of their skills. This statement provides ground for the development of administrative, supportive, and supervision skills in the development of the gym’s program and activities.

Manager: The manager will be entitled to run the daily affairs of the business. Their primary responsibility will be to make sure that the clients are happy and the needs or special requirements of the families are met. They are also expected to meet with potential clients and maintain existing relationships with suppliers, government agencies, and business partners. This scope of responsibilities means that they will also contribute to decisions involving equipment purchases and marketing activities. Subject to these expectations, the manager should have good communication, problem-solving, and motivational skills for working with employees, as well as a strong determination to grow the business. The preferred candidate should also have an associate degree in management and be certified in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and emergency care services. Alternatively, members of the management team may be required to hold a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy or a similarly related field of study. They will be comprised of specialists from various fields, including a physical therapy, management, and childcare development.

Chief Financial Officer: A chief financial officer will be appointed to handle all financial issues relating to the company. Their primary responsibility will be to manage income and expenses on a daily basis and monitor the gym’s operations by making sure that the financial needs of each department are effectively met and resources prudently used. Part of their responsibility will also involve managing membership funds and accounting for all donor-based financial resources of the business. By seeking their services, the business would be better able to hypothesize how best to use resources allocated to them, especially in the areas of advertisement and purchasing. The Chief Financial Officer should possess a minimum of Bachelor’s degree in accounting or a finance related discipline and should have a five-year working experience operating a similar type of gym. Preference will be given to residents of New York City.

Cleanliness and Maintenance Personnel: Gym maintenance services will be outsourced to an independent cleaning company. The contract should be given to a cleaning service that has experience in maintaining equipment used in sensory gyms. The company will also be required to undertake maintenance services, such as fixing broken machines or electrical issues at the facility. The services of employees sought through a third party firm must be accompanied by a privacy policy to protect the rights of clients or children who use the gym’s facilities.

Clinical Staff: The gym will have at least one physician at a time for the first year of operation on a part-time basis to save financial resources. To recruit the best talent, the gym’s services will be integrated with that of a local hospital and the performance of the physician evaluated based on this relationship. This strategy creates the position of a full-time physician, which is attractive enough to secure the best talent in the state of New York. Under this plan, small and medium enterprises have a lower chance of competing for talent with big corporations that are likely to fill this position based on their experience. Additionally, small enterprises do not have the resources to get the kind of clinical staff needed to attract quality talent for the business. Therefore, headhunting will be used as an effective recruitment strategy to get the right personnel.

Third Party Professional Managers: Third party staff will be hired to carry out specialized functions, such as auditing the company’s finances, filing tax returns, and meeting legal obligations. Therefore, an attorney and accountant will form part of the outsourced professional team. The services of an insurance representative will also be integrated in the overall business plan to mitigate risk.

Operational Plan

Implementing this plan will involve discussions with different stakeholders and parties that would be affected by the activities of the facility. This process will include seeking the views of parents, teachers, psychologists and pediatricians in developing the gym design and purchasing equipment as highlighted below:

Gym Design: The philosophy influencing the design of the gym facility is based on the assumption that children’s wellbeing is subject to their environment. Developed in the 1970s, this assumption encouraged therapists to change the environment to accommodate some of the developmental challenges of special needs children (Jacobs & McCormack, 2011). Based on this need, the gym’s design will provide a relaxing and exploratory environment for children to play and have fun. To do so, color will be used to change the tonality and atmosphere in the facility. For example, the main room will be painted in white or pastel color to optimize the effects of projected light that would illuminate the facility. Similarly, windows will be in dark color to block out excess sunlight and draw people’s attention to the equipment. Additionally, the ceiling lighting will be dimmed to create the impression that users are breaking away from the “normal” environment. The goal is to encourage them to disrupt their routine and engage in exploratory activities for their mental and physical growth.

Equipment: Each sensory room will be equipped with new tools, such as bubble tubes, fibre optics, sprays, projectors, mirror balls, music systems water beds, and the likes for aiding children to exercise. The equipment are deigned to create a relaxing environment for the children and encourage them to take part in activities that they would have otherwise shunned. Installing the equipment in the various rooms will not only influence the staff management plan but also the children involved. However, members of staff can be easily trained to reach a level of competence that is adequate for them to operate the equipment safely. It is projected that within weeks of using the new equipment, staff will report significant changes in performance.

Funding Plan

The funding costs for setting up gym facilities vary widely depending on local and market considerations. Key assumptions underlying the financial planning process are that there will be an overall increased and sustained demand for gym products, an increased sense of blurred roles between general views of gyms and outside activities, and the presence of strong competition. Table 1 below highlights the proposed budget for setting up the gym, including the associated cost profiles.

Table 1. Budget (Source: Developed by Author)

Item Cost ($)
Facility Cost 5,000
Gym Equipment 25,000
Licenses and Permits 1,000
Legal Fees and Business Insurance 1,500
Employee Salaries 10,000
Gym management software and hardware 2,500
Advertising and marketing 5,000
Total 50,000

Payment methods and rates imposed at the gym facility will be designed to promote fairness and equality in the provision of services. Financial resources will be sought from the New York State Department, including the Department of Education under the early intervention program. Comparatively, the private pay model will include out of pocket payments to access gym services and facilities. This plan means that payments will not come from healthcare reimbursement programs undertaken by government authorities. Disability-specific assistance will be sought under this type of arrangement and the funds used to buy new equipment. Broadly, the New York Department of Education and the state’s early intervention program will publicly fund the program. Additional financial resources from the New York State Education will be in the form of grants. The involvement of the Special Education Budget and Finance Committee will also be sought to address administrative issues associated with the financing plan.

The funding strategy outlined above will also be developed with an appreciation of the need to link recognition with work. Therefore, more important than receiving a competitive salary is the need to develop opportunities for career growth advancement. Therefore, the career journey is considered an important part of recruiting good talent. In line with the recognition of this link, there is a need to make clinicians and other professionals at the gym to believe that they can do more. This plan involves creating bonuses for professionals that have surpassed their group level of performance. This approach is better at recruiting talent as opposed to one where employees are not engaged in the same manner.

Management Plan

Talent Management

Managing gym activities is only one among many functions that have to be observed when operating the facility. Given that different professionals will be hired to work at the firm, there is a need to have a plan for managing talent. From this background, research studies have shown that some employees tend not to use the benefits accrued from their work and instead look for positions that would give them some semblance of autonomy (McAbee, 2017; Lim et al., 2021). Particularly, this problem is poignant among occupational therapists and other professionals who often hold a desire to work for themselves. For example, employees who have health insurance policies from their spouses rarely claim their individualized health insurance products. A different group of employees may be keen on getting more time for vacation, while others demand more flexibility. Regardless of the motive involved, the main plan for talent management involves identifying the unique value proposition of the gym and tailoring the employment package to reflect this need. This benefit of starting the new gym is devoid of the limitations of large organizations that have rigid rules of engagement.

Given that physicians and clinicians will be central to the operations of the gym, the talent management plan is designed to accommodate their ambitious goals and desires for independence. For example, physicians and clinicians will be allowed to come up with their care teams, which will not be directly answerable to management but to them as well. Doing so gives them an opportunity to be accountable for their actions.

Formal Policies Needed

There is need to develop organizational policies that will help to minimize conflict and streamline team operations for the benefit of practitioners, parents and children who use the gym facility. The policies will help to outline how each employee is supposed to take part in the daily operations of the gym. By doing so, they will help to minimize conflict and promote synchrony of purpose for the different groups of practitioners allowed to work at the business. Brandt (2016), who argues that occupational therapy leaders play an important role in making sure that team unity is upheld in an organization, further highlights the importance of upholding this ethical practice. He advances the view that a culture of integrity is likely to influence the future direction of an organization (Brandt, 2016). Based on this statement, the gym will have an ethical policy statement that should guide the activities of all staff at the workplace. This policy statement will be aligned with the overall vision and mission of the gym, which will be centered on providing physical support services to children with special needs. In implementing this plan, occupational therapists will work closely with other professionals, including speech and physical therapists to create synergy in executing gym plans.

Conclusion

Setting up a gym facility for children with special needs requires, zeal, commitment, and trust among the partners involved. This document shows the most important processes involved in setting up a multisensory gym facility for children with special needs in New York City. The facility will target children who suffer from a broad range of disabilities, including speech, physical, and occupational issues. The main design of the gym is to enhance the development of children’s motor skills, creativity, and self-esteem. The firm will be equipped with different types of equipment, including games, toys, and furniture to aid the children to improve their developmental outcomes.

To fund the gym facility, members of the New York Department of Education and Early Childhood intervention programs will be sought. Using an independent promoter, partnerships with both agencies will be nurtured as well. The gym will be staffed by occupational, speech, and physical therapists, who are conversant with skills and techniques for activating different types of stimulation, depending on a child’s disability and specialized needs. Given that the support of parents and teachers will also be included in setting up the plans for starting and running the gym, their involvement will be welcomed at the facility.

Their contribution in the planning process is informed by the importance of providing families with children who have specialized needs with the highest quality health services in the same manner as those who have children who do not have disability. The involvement of pediatricians, teachers, and psychologists in the scheme was not limited to the provision of psychosocial support but also in the development of evidence-based interventions and effective treatment procedures for the children.

The New York-based fitness program for special needs students will be designed to accommodate all groups of children with special needs under the age of 18. To achieve the program’s goals, the gym will hire and train staff that is knowledgeable in the respective areas of practice. Hiring the right staff and marketing the gym facility to the right audience will increase the probability for experiencing optimum results. This is because a gym owner is supposed to understand the nature of the diagnosis, estimate the needs requirements for each category of disability, and communicate the same to the staff to provide the most appropriate care.

The most important consideration for implementing the gym’s programs involves hiring the right staff and sustaining their salaries. The public pay program whereby state institutions will be primarily responsible for funding the program addresses the latter issue. Building partnerships with other partners will also be central to the implementation of the gym development plan. In this framework, third parties will be sought to provide professional support. Such collaborations will also be important in expanding the gym’s finances and budgets to sustain employee salaries and purchase more equipment for use. Therefore, a collaborative strategy will be important in navigating different issues that may influence the operational processes of the gym facility.

The success of collaborating with various partners can only be realized if there is a critical mass of people that are aware of the gym’s existence in the first place. Therefore, marketing will be important in getting the word around about the existence of the gym. Particularly, the process will be central in increasing enrolment levels across various levels of implementation. These strategies are expected to aid the successful launch of the gym in New York because parents who have children with special needs are always on the lookout for new opportunities of learning and development that their children can take part in. This is because children with special needs have the same desires and wants to play as their regular counterparts do.

References

ADA National Network. (2017). An overview of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Web.

Arky, B. (2020). Treating sensory processing issues. Web.

Brandt, L. C. (2016). Organizational ethics: Occupational therapy practice in a complex health environment (2nd ed.). AOTA Continuing Education.

Costa, D. M. (2007). Clinical supervision in occupational therapy: A guide for fieldwork and practice. AOTA Press.

Information and Reporting Services. (2020). Data summaries. Web.

Jacobs, K., & McCormack, G. L. (2011). The occupational therapy manager (5th ed.). AOTA Press.

Lim, S. M., Nyoman, L., Tan, Y. J., & Yin, Y. Y. (2021). Transition practice before entering primary school: A longitudinal study of children with and without special needs across a year. Hong Kong Journal of Occupational Therapy, 7(2), 1-10.

McAbee, G. N. (2017). US Supreme Court decision may improve individual educational programs for children with special needs. Journal of Child Neurology, 32(12), 973–974.

PBWS. (2020). Special needs children – Know the types and know your rights.

Pladson, K. (2012). How to start a special needs program and sustain it. Web.

Sokol, R. (2015). 8 stellar sensory gyms for kids in NYC. Web.

Support by Design. (2021). Welcome to support by design. Web.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "A Gym for Children with Special Needs in New York City." November 10, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/a-gym-for-children-with-special-needs-in-new-york-city/.

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