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Gail Troussoff Marks
Gymnastics Classes for All Children
Silver Stars Gymnastics

Gymnastics Classes for All Children

A gymnastics facility on a busy weekday night is hardly the environment that a parent or therapist would think a special needs child could handle, especially one with sensory sensitivities. Late afternoon and early evening at gyms like Silver Stars have classes going on for all ages and skills, as well as competitive team practice. However, classes may be available for kids who cannot manage a typical class. At Silver Stars these classes, called Sparkling Stars, have included kids with low muscle tone, ADHD, autism, cerebral palsy, Downs syndrome, and a variety of developmental challenges. The most important thing is to find the best match for your child. If a gym, swimming pool, or other sports facility offers smaller classes or specially designed classes take advantage of that opportunity. Even if the classes are more expensive, their value can be seen in your childs success and enjoyment. Children gain confidence through instruction geared toward their needs and which allows them to master skills at their own pace. At Silver Stars, these Sparkling Star classes are small or even one-on-one depending on the childs needs. However, even the one-on-on classes are conducted in the midst of an array of other classes, so there are plenty of opportunities for the special needs child to observe and interact with the others.
Why gymnastics for your
special needs child?
As for any child, gymnastics promotes whole body flexibility and strength. Balance is a major component of gymnastics, as well. Forward rolls, walking across a balance beam, jumping on a trampoline all of these require awareness and control of ones body. Gymnastics is a sport built on progressions. Skills are broken down into steps and taught one-by-one. All of these components, from strength to motor planning are useful to a child with special needs.
Gymnastics builds upper body strength by using apparatus such as parallel bars, monkey bars, and rings and rope for swinging. Handstands are done against a mat and also build upper body strength. Trampolines provide aerobic activity and proprioceptive input, sending sensory data through the legs and core muscles. Practice with balance, motor planning, and crossing mid-line occurs in many obstacle courses or stations that are used within class. A child who has been to occupational therapy or physical therapy may see familiar equipment used in multiple ways by all kinds of children. Seeing other kids climbing, swinging, and jumping helps children learn the movements and attempt new skills.
Gymnastics is more than a chance for added physical activity. Gymnastics classes offer additional experience with social contacts, regulation, sensory input, speech, and language skills. The large space, noise, and hustle and bustle of the lobby gives children experience with large public places. The allure of the trampoline or their favorite equipment is motivation to cope with many obstacles and sensory challenges. With patience and persistence almost all the kids adapt and manage the noise and environment. One child used headphones while adjusting, but that was only necessary for a couple of classes.
Most skills and movements are demonstrated, as well as explained verbally, so children get information from multi-sensory methods. Warm-up time often invites opportunities for speech and there are other children to imitate. Since words, visual demonstrations and movement are used, non-verbal children have multiple ways to process the explanation of a skill.
Gymnastics can be an appropriate and useful activity for a special needs child, as long as care is taken to find a program that works for the child. Families may have the chance to enroll siblings in classes at the same time. Physical activity can foster growth across a variety of developmental challenges and provide the health benefits of exercise. Perhaps, the most compelling reason to try gymnastics is that in an appropriate class, kids have fun. When kids are engaged and having fun, growth occurs.

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