For several months now my daughter with Autism has been going to Gymnastics. Does she like it? Yes, she loves it. We have tried several different activities for Alyssa and she usually ends up pretty frustrated and doesn’t want to go any further. But so far so good with Gymnastics. She knows she goes once a week at this time and she looks forward to going. This is exciting for us because she can keep going and she can be happy accomplishing even the little things.
During the time Alyssa has been going to gymnastics I have found several beneficial aspects to gymnastics.
Each time Alyssa goes she knows there are rules to follow. How is this any different than school or home you might ask. Well at school she has rules and at home she has rules but those are two very comfortable places for where she can retract into her own space. She can stop what she is doing and walk away. In gymnastics, it’s not her place, its gymnastics space. There isn’t a fidget room, a case worker room, an OT room. She doesn’t get to remove herself as easily. Now I ask does she want to even remove herself at all. The coaches are tough, they are pushing her to do her best and yes they know she may have a meltdown, but they are prepared for it. The discipline goes into more than just what she can get away with, it really is the discipline to be there every week, on time, ready in her leotard and hair up. It means she is walking and representing the gymnastic world, even if she is still a beginner.
At first Alyssa didn’t know what she was getting herself into, she was going and doing a few tumbles and a few cartwheels here and there. Now she is holding onto a bar and trying her hardest to get her body over that bar or she is swinging while hanging onto the bar. This causes callus and after sometime your skin will hurt and toughen up. I am sure over time she will get bumps and bruises from falling or landing wrong but for now I will take the little things.
Balance and Focus
One of the many things you think of when you hear Gymnastics is Balance beam. Yup, that is Alyssa’s favorite thing to do. Each session she gets to use a balance beam that is higher and higher. What does she get out of this? Balance, Focus without these two things she can’t possibly go much further. She gets so happy when it’s her time on the beam, she gets several different exercises to work on and she nails them every time.
Many kids with Autism have this but many don’t know how to use it. At first Alyssa would try and then quit. She just wasn’t determined enough to complete a task of work on something hard. This gets tough, things get tricky and in her mind that means it’s time to end whatever is happening at that moment in time. Now since joining gymnastics she has a new way of being determined, she isn’t quitting. I ask her after every session if she wants to stop before I sign her up for the next session and she always says “mom, I am going to be like Gaby Douglas someday, I want to keep going”. To me that’s so amazing, to hear my daughter has a person she admires so much that she wants to continue even when things are getting harder for her each session. I know she can do it and at this point, she does too.
Alyssa knows we have this planned one day of every week. With her Autism she is great with routine. And if you take her away from that routine then she can have many issues follow. For her it’s what she looks forward to and she can plan on it being a part of her week, and even month.
One major good thing about Alyssa has always been her eating choices, my child will eat anything. I often wonder if it’s because of the sensory processing disorder she also has or if she just likes all food. She eats HOT peppers (ghost peppers) like its nothing and doesn’t even break a sweat. She eats Quinoa and greens. Well anything really. If you give her the choice she will pick healthy over candy almost every time. Since joining gymnastics however she has been a little more food conscious. She will ask if what we are having for dinner is healthy or she will say she won’t eat certain meats or fat foods because “they are not healthy choices mom”. So with the help of gymnastics, Alyssa and her healthy choices are even healthier now.
Alyssa has had many issues with respect in the way she talks to people, she can be mouthy and she also can tell it like it is. She is very honest in the fact that she expresses herself with no fear of what could happen. She has had these issues in school and yes even at home. It is hard sometimes because she doesn’t understand why what she says is bad, disrespectful or even wrong when what she is saying is either her feelings, her brain tells her what to say, or she is telling the truth. She doesn’t think about other people’s feelings with the way her saying things or what she says. In gymnastics she has learned to be respectful to her coaches, still she struggles with how she communicates with her peers but I hope over time that too will get better.
While we have not worked to be part of the TEAMS who go out and get judged as of yet, Alyssa is still part of a team each session. During these sessions (beginner, beginner2, advanced beginner) she is placed with a set of 5-8 other children at her level and they are all taught the same things. This is still a team and Alyssa is working with a team. At first she struggled with this and a few times I have talked with her as I have seen her social cues of confusion or need to express herself differently. Over time in gymnastics Alyssa will improve her team work skills and that is a big thing in her world of Autism.
Over all Gymnastics has done wonders in the short time she has been going, even if the wonders are only seen while she is there. The amazing part is that if she can do all these things and she can work on the many downsides of her Autism that maybe it will flow over to her everyday life. Maybe we will see more of the positive things that take place from gymnastics happen at school or in public at the store.
I see her working on her fine motor skills, learning at her own pace, working in a sensory-rich environment and getting the effects of joy and learning the effects of disappointment. When I see all of these things happening each time I watch her, I can’t help but feel this is something my kid can do.
Remember the phrase: “She believed she could, so she did” Well “I believe she can, and she will”.