Many families with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are finding that gymnastics can offer a new type of therapy, one that engages the body and mind in ways traditional therapy lacks. Gymnastics teaches many skills that traditional ASD therapy teaches, but offers an encouraging social component as well.
Children with ASD need opportunities to work on gross and fine motor skills, following directions, overcoming concerns, and strengthening core muscles. That’s a lot to ask for from a single approach to therapy, but gymnastics offers these in courses available to every child. Classes specifically designed for children with special needs simply apply increased one-on-one attention without the competitive atmosphere standard classes might offer. Skills are taught on a per-child basis, rather than group-focused, so that each child can establish his or her own benchmarks. Jubilant cries of, “I did it!” are a hallmark of the gymnastics classes for special needs children, and often, that is a goal in itself.
Gymnastics is obviously very physically centered. For the special needs child, the development of fine and gross motor skills, balancing, and strength building are practiced on the floor or with an apparatus, making it fun while still being challenging. With a knowledgable staff, special needs gymnasts can often see improvement in motor skills in just a couple of weeks. Some of that is physical improvement, but often there is a large component of self-confidence riding shotgun. Running in a large open space, rolling down incline mats, swinging from bars – all of these things stimulate the ASD brain and improve strength and motor control. These types of activities are unique to gymnastics and can lead to participation in other sports and activities as well.
Finding a gymnastics center that offers these types of classes can be a struggle. But a committed parent can partner with instructors to easily design classes for small groups of children who would reap lifetime benefits from the effort. A little gymnastics goes a long way.