Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why adaptive programs rock

This winter, Hannah and Isabelle participated in an "adaptive" tumbling class at a gymnastics school near us, where Isabelle took a class last summer. While looking at ways to build Hannah's strength and keep her active this winter, I learned of this new program starting up and jumped at the chance to sign on, especially since it was directed at her age group and they welcomed "typically developing" siblings or buddies.

The class was ideal on so many levels. First of all, it was only my girls and two boys their age who are on the autism spectrum so it was a very small group. This really benefited Hannah, who can get so easily distracted in big, noisy groups and would not have gotten as much out of using all of the equipment and facilities in that setting. Also, the instructor is a young, energetic woman who seemed to intuitively know how to relate to each of the kids despite their very different personalities and needs. She didn't try to keep to a specific routine (different from the class Isabelle took over the summer) and while she offered up SOME structure, she also let the kids take the lead a great deal. This slower pace made it easier for Hannah to keep up with everyone and it was also great for me that the instructor was not afraid to jump right in and facilitate Hannah's participation, something I'm usually doing when we get involved in "mainstream" programs.

The full benefits of participating in an adaptive program like this didn't fully sink in until almost the last week. But one week, when the regular teacher was out sick, a substitute taught the class who was new to our group as well as to the school itself. It became clear very early on that she was not given a heads-up on how loose and low-key our class was, as she kept trying to insert structure into the routine that the 4 kids, their helpers and the teacher had created over the previous weeks. And it wasn't working out at all. I sort of felt bad for her as she struggled to get all of the kids to go through each station she'd set up: Hannah was just kind of standing around, the two boys on the spectrum were running in different directions, and Isabelle was methodically following the teacher's lead. It was a little crazy. At one point, the sub had everyone go upstairs to the stretching area (which we did every week) and she started the routine before Hannah and I could get there with her walker. That's when I spoke up and said, "Could you please wait a minute for us to get there?!" She clearly missed the point of this very special class and it brought home to me the fact that I was so comfortable with the way things were run with the regular teacher and what a relief it was to be in such a setting, where there were no outside expectations or rushing around trying to get Hannah to keep up or worries about what people would think of her. It was so nice to just relax and let Hannah enjoy herself.

I think it is so important for Hannah, and all kiddos with disabilities, to be a part of their community and participate in activities with other typically developing kids their age. But sometimes, it's really nice to be involved in something with other kids like Hannah. And it's great that siblings are welcome because Isabelle is getting just as much out of it as her sister.

Next on board for this spring/early summer: an adaptive dance/theater class!


Brendan said...


Megan said...

Hey there,
I work with a few community groups who run adaptive programs. I think it would be a great idea to send a letter to the gymnastics school talking about this great experience. This can go a long way to encouraging places to continue to run/expand their adaptive programs. I can tell from your blog that life is super busy for you so please don't take this comment as pressure to your to-do list. Just an idea :)

CP and Me said...

Beauty: I actually got the e-mail address of the owner from the instructor, when the program ended, to do just that very thing. But your comment motivated me to actually write the e-mail, as I had good intentions but had not followed through. So it's a great idea, and thanks for the nudge!

armyeye said...

Very nice to see Hannah getting the most out of both settings. I can clearly see your point about the experience being very "teacher dependent" though.