For Coaches Teaching child w/physical disabilities.

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CoachGoofy

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Today a family who's daughter I teach in a rec class introduced me to their older daughter, who is in love with the idea of the sport, and they're signing her up for private lessons.

I am totally down with this, and excited, but a bit nervous. This child is enthusiastic, funny, thrilled to bits to get a chance, and has a moderate-severe physical disability, I think cerbral palsy. She is able to walk with assistance, and has use of one arm. Her grip strength in that arm is pretty fantastic, too. She seems to be pretty strong in the abs, too, but I didn't have a lot of time with her & the 10 minute minilesson I gave her was making stuff up as I went.

Any resources or ideas for skills and exercises to do with her? I'm opposed on general principle to "special needs" gymnastics programs that are just supervised play time in a gym, and I'd like her to have fun, get a work out, and get to feel that same "heck yes. I did it" that ANY child in gymnastics gets to feel.

Ideas, please??? I've had lots of kids with developmental disabilities, but these are deeper parts of only partially charted waters and I want this girl to have a full gymnastics experience.
 
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gymdog

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Coach
Former Gymnast
Proud Relative
Jul 5, 2007
5,121
I'm opposed on general principle to "special needs" gymnastics programs that are just supervised play time in a gym

Any program needs to have appropriate expectations. Some children will not have the ability or developmental capacity at a given point in time to do anything other than what you describe as "supervised play time in the gym" but that doesn't mean they benefit less from a well structured class that exposes them to a variety of textures, surfaces, physical experiences, learning to deal with sensory input, etc. And that is why there is a demand for programs like this (I wouldn't call them "play time" by the way, simply not traditionally structured). It seems like a bit of a rose colored glasses view to think that every child is even at a point in development where working endlessly on a cartwheel so they can say "I did it" is even a possibility. Any child should participate to the full extent possible, but for some just being in the gym without overloading on sensory stimulation is an accomplishment.

If this child has the ability to work through more typical progressions, that's great, and I fully support using those progressions with whatever modifications possible, but I think if you're approaching this with the attitude that the only benefits in the gym come from "real gymnastics" then that's going to hold things back here. We need to be realistic when dealing with extended needs, whatever they may be. There are variety of creative ways we can use the gym to enhance physical fitness for any child (and also developmental growth). An accomplishment may be as simple as finally letting go of the rope while swinging, or walking across something without falling off. Go as far as is possible given the circumstances, which is basically what we do with every kid. We know that many neurotypical and physically developmentally on target kids will not learn a back handspring, but we teach them as much body awareness, core strength, and flexibility as is possible for their physical capabilities. It's often the case that a child in any class is simply physically incapable of doing something at that point in time - we need to modify the exercises or create a series of simpler exercises so they can build the capacity to complete the harder skill.

In this specific instance I would suggest you design exercises using shapes like barrel mats she can use for support. Work on balance with assistance using various pieces of equipment. Moving into and out of the pit with assistance. Gentle bouncing and working way up with assistance on various surfaces (tramp, board, floor). All of this can be with a spotter or equipment. Rolling skills (log rolling or forward rolls, depending on ability), climbing with assistance, moving sideways with assistance, if possible work to bear walk sideways then that could progress to a cartwheel jump (Hands on panel mat, just move feet sideways).
 
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CoachGoofy

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THOSE are ideas I couldn't have come up with! Thank you! All my other private lesson kids are the ones with autism or cognitive delays who are physically able to learn skills, but who the other gym in town offered them a class where they jump into the pit for an hour (hence my...uh...dim view of such things.)

We can totally work with the shapes and the log rolls. A sideways bear crawl hadn't even crossed my mind. Thanks!
 

gymdog

Well-Known Member
Coach
Former Gymnast
Proud Relative
Jul 5, 2007
5,121
who the other gym in town offered them a class where they jump into the pit for an hour (hence my...uh...dim view of such things.)

I am sure there are poorly structured classes like this, same as with any gymnastics classes really. I didn't mean to be rude about it, I guess what kind of got me was the special needs in quotes like some kids won't need significant accomodations and even classes that are guided but mostly unstructured in terms of actual "gymnastics" skill progressions. Some people do think many special needs are an exaggeration, etc, I know you didn't mean to imply that but it kind of raises my hackles.
 
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CoachGoofy

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I am sure there are poorly structured classes like this, same as with any gymnastics classes really. I didn't mean to be rude about it, I guess what kind of got me was the special needs in quotes like some kids won't need significant accomodations and even classes that are guided but mostly unstructured in terms of actual "gymnastics" skill progressions. Some people do think many special needs are an exaggeration, etc, I know you didn't mean to imply that but it kind of raises my hackles.

Oh not at all. I'm all for accomodations and setting up sane, reasonable, appropriate gymnastics/quasi-gymnastics programs for kids with special needs. I've got a special ed degree. That's why the programs that look like glorified babysitting at gymnastics prices raise MY hackles. I know the kids can do more, with thoughtful accomodations.
 

Shan126

New Member
May 25, 2009
31
How serious is the cerebral palsy? I have worked with several gymnasts with disabilities and can relate to the feeling of wanting to teach them skills without undermining or making things too challenging. I would say try setting up small things on the low beams to have the child step over, hold her hand on trampaline and jump sloftly until they get the bouncing motion. Try open and closes and switches to work up to straddle jumps and split jumps. Kids get very excited to learn new things, so lots of encouragement to keep it fun!
 

KAQuinlan

Member
Mar 6, 2009
93
Florida Panhandle
I taught a CP girl many moons ago in a gym where all we had was a beam and a few panel mats. She was 6, but I taught her the same skills that I taught the preschoolers. She loved it and was the star of our end of the year show! We began with her by asking her parents what they wanted their daughter to learn. They knew her specific difficulties better than anyone and were able to set some great expectations in light of that knowledge. I like some of the suggestions above -- wish that I had had them back then!
 
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