Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Young Athletes' Special Olympics

The last several weeks, Addison and Carter have been attending a Young Athletes' Special Olympics class. Held at a local high school and led by high school students, this program captivated me from the start.

I've wanted to write about it for a while, but I had a hard time summing up why it captivated me so.

And then today in class, when I showed up looking like an absolute fool after a busy morning of dentist appointments, I was asked this "why" in front of a television camera by a Channel 3 reporter. I wished I had already written about it then, because sometimes I truly don't know how I feel about a subject until I write about it. (Weird? Most likely.)

Addison attends class as an athlete. Carter attends the class as a partner.

Focusing on specific gross motor skills that are much more difficult to someone with low muscle tone, this class has creatively presented physical therapy learning activities from week to week in a fun way that has captured Addison's attention.

Today in class she laughed hysterically for the first ten minutes. When she laughs? The world around her is happy and at peace.

I love that Addison has this outlet to learn some of these physical skills such as jumping, kicking, throwing, following body movement directions, balancing, shaking, etc. I tried to get her to learn some of these things through a typically developing gymnastics class, but that ended badly as the pace was all wrong for her, the environment was too stimulating, and the skill set required was too much too fast. This class has fit her visual, slower-paced learning style perfectly.

I love that Carter is a part of this class alongside her. I want him to be part of the special needs community as soon as possible so that he knows that there are other families like ours. It is perhaps early for him to be recognizing this happening around him, but it makes sense to me to have him involved from the very start of Addison's Special Olympics career.

It's a class focused on physical activity. Carter is very good at this sort of thing. Addison struggles. But this class has completely surprised me. Addison- my social butterfly- has thrown herself into the activities. She has been doing fabulously AND she has a great time. Carter tends to cower on the sidelines- almost afraid to get involved. The class has been a stretch for both of them in different ways.

But even more than the benefit this class provides my kids? I leave with a huge smile on my face when I see the way these teens interact with the kids with special needs. The environment is full of positive energy, there are more volunteers than the class can use, and the kindness, love, and patience demonstrated by these teens is quite astounding to me.

I wish I could go back to my teen years to interact in such a class- normalizing special needs and building compassion in my heart for those who are different from myself before going out into the world as an adult. The parents of these teens should be very proud because they are doing something very right. It's the kind of interactions that I dream for Addison's peers someday when she's in high school. And for Carter and Eli to have.

The reporter asked me today if I wished we could see more of these classes at different high schools. Ummmm yes, yes, so many times yes.

And if you live locally and have a child with special needs- come join us at Rice High School on Tuesday afternoons. You won't regret it. Seriously.

The words "Special Olympics" used to terrify me. Getting Addison's diagnosis, I remembered every single "special Olympics" joke I had ever heard. But now that I'm on this side of things, I realize just how much this isn't a joke.

This is a chance for Addison to achieve, succeed, and do it all with a smile on her face. To have a special niche like this for her and others like her- supported by those who have a heart to serve- this is every mother's dream come true.

Thank you to those who tirelessly work with programs such as these- starting with the Young Athletes' program all the way up. Thank you to those who support these efforts. And thank you to those of you who cheer from the sidelines. We are just starting on this path, but we have never felt more welcomed or at home. Thank you. #specialolympicsvermont

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