Tag Archives: gymnastics

Special Needs Gymnastics Class – South Austin/Dripping Springs, Texas

Special Needs GymnasticsYou know that fantastic special needs Mommy (or Daddy) and Me gymnastics class I’ve mentioned from time to time? Well, today I get to do more than just mention it to you. And actually, come to think of it, there are a LOT of daddies that attend this class. The dynamic Miss Suzi Ziegenbein, the gymnastics coach at the Dripping Springs YMCA, has given me the go ahead to invite your child with special needs to her class.

This session goes from Wednesday, September 4th through Wednesday, December 18th. Class space is limited, so get your form and payment if required in to the DSYMCA today! If you are already an Austin-area YMCA member, the class is absolutely free; otherwise you’ll pay a 15-dollar registration fee to enter the system.

Noah (6-Down syndrome) and I have done this class now for two or three semesters, and we have had such fun! Noah is swinging from rings, ropes and bars; jumping from obstacle to obstacle; log rolling; army crawling; jumping on the trampoline, and working on forward and backward rolls. Miss Suzi also has him skipping, galloping, stomping bubbles, and running. The classes move along so smoothly and are so much fun, the kiddos don’t even realize they are working. Each child is encouraged to progress through the weekly course at his own ability level and speed. We are also blessed to have Noah’s (and my) very favorite physical therapist for all times, the amazing Miss Laurie, attend these classes. She not only has a keen eye on how to maximize the workout for each specific kiddo, but she’s got a real knack for knowing just how to motivate these kids to keep them going. If your child has a special need (physical, social or cognitive) that would make attending a typical gymnastics class challenging, this might be just the class for you. Many thanks to Miss Suzi, her daughter Kaleigh, Miss Laurie, the Dripping Springs YMCA and Family Connections Center for making this opportunity available to our children.

A link to the registration and medical release form is below.
Special Needs Gymnastics Class Reg. form Fall 2013

Noah See, Noah Do: Imitation Skills in Children with Down Syndrome – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Betcha thought this post was going to brag on my courageous hero’s latest conquest.


Noah (6- with Down syndrome) has entered yet another milestone in his Mommy and Me gymnastics class.  He has become the master of imitation.  I first saw it a few weeks ago when we were introduced to the chicken dance.  I tried the usual hand-over-hand-assistance to teach him how to do it, and he gave me the new “No-thanks-mom-ill-do-it-myself” response which included an angry growl and a yank of his hands.  He watched the other kids intently and ever so slowly he began imitating them.

Okay.  I’m good with that.  So he’s going to learn how to do new things by watching the people around him.  It’s all good.


Because last week in his special needs gymnastics class, he continued the imitation game to the tune of  throwing himself down on the mat and refusing to get up after he saw another child do that.  Then he started racing off to the other side of the gym after he saw another child who I believe is severely autistic and a “runner” do that.  Then there was the refusal to do the bear walk on the uneven bars and instead just walking between them.  Yup, you guessed it, he saw somebody do that too.

Sorry guys, all I could think about was after class was thank God he is not in a school with other kids all day.  Can you imagine what he’d be coming home with?

It did prompt me to do some research on imitation skills of children with Down syndrome.  I knew I had seen in the volumes of literature I’ve encountered that imitation skills are a strength in children with Down syndrome.  Oh yes, my further research tells me, oh yes.  It would be SOOO nice if those imitation skills included imitating language, but at least one study reveals it does not and is limited to visual imitation; visual imitation as in I saw one child out of a hundred children do something aggravating, and so now I’m going to do the exact same thing.

As I pointed out to Noah’s physical therapist, Why is it that it takes us forever to teach him a new desired behavior, yet he can see one child do one thing one time, and if Noah finds it amusing, he instantly adds it to his repertoire?  Perhaps it is because showing him how to do something is slightly different than him watching a peer do it.  And maybe it’s because these little ones with Down syndrome seem to have a predisposition to being mischievous.

Researching this topic wound up being an exercise in hilarity.  I’ve been laughing a lot lately – laugh or cry, right?

This came from an article out of Ribeirão Preto Medical School, University of São Paulo, Brazil.  You can find the complete manuscript at


“Imitation, as any other cognitive processes, is not innate, it changes due to the subjects’

actions on the objects in the environment, firstly it is an extension of the action, that is,

movements where the child can see her/himself doing the action and it evolves to a moment

when the action becomes internalized and the child acquires the possibility of imitating

events even in the absence of role models (Piaget, 1964/1978).

In child development, imitation presents two different but complementary functions, one of

them is the cognitive function that makes learning about world events possible, and the

other is an interpersonal one, which allows sharing experiences with the others (Uzgiris,

1981). Imitation occurs primarily because the child needs to understand the others’ intention

in communicating, that is, he/she is going to imitate whatever she/he thinks that his/her

peer wants to be imitated, thus “feeding” social interaction (Nielsen & Hudry, 2010). As can

be seen, imitation is a very important characteristic of the construction of social skills.

There has been increasing evidence that children with DS are strongly likely to copy the

others (Wright, Lewis & Collis, 2006; Anhão et al., 2010). Children with DS are very

observant and they use imitation as an instrument for creating social skills.”

Here is the heart of the paper and the heart of my desire to train Noah to behave to the very best of his ability:

Thus, specific behaviors and impairments, emerging at a very early age, compounded by the presence of biological factors (like illness and sleep disorders), are likely to result not only in the development of challenging behaviors during the toddler years, but the maintenance of these behaviors throughout childhood.  Such behaviors also not only interfere with the acquisition of skills, but, in many communities, preclude individuals with Down syndrome from opportunities with typical peers within educational, community, and employment settings.  In light of the negative impact challenging behaviors can have, attention to the identification of effective interventions that correspond to the characteristic behavioral deficits associated with the Down syndrome behavioral phenotype, beginning at the earliest stages of development, is essential.”

The document that pushed me over the edge into laughter I found over at http://www.down-syndrome.org/reviews/2076/.  It was the paragraph entitled “Increased likelihood of challenging behavior.”  Yup.  This is an excerpt from an article written by Kathleen Feeley and Emily Jones for Down Syndrome Education Online:

“Several characteristics associated with the Down syndrome behavioural phenotype as well as biological factors are likely to increase the presence of challenging behaviour in individuals with Down syndrome. The application of evidenced based strategies assessing and addressing challenging behaviours in individuals with developmental disabilities can be systematically applied to address such behaviours in individuals with Down syndrome. Additionally, evidence based strategies can be systematically implemented by caregivers of very young children with Down syndrome to address early communication skills (requesting, vocal imitation), escape behaviours, and self stimulatory behaviour thus diminishing early developing behaviours likely to lead to more significant challenges as the child with Down syndrome matures.”

This has got to be one of the most brilliant, important paragraphs ever written for parents of children with Down syndrome.  It shouts to me, “Hey Mom – you and your child don’t have to be powerless when it comes to some of the challenges that Down syndrome brings.  Adapt, adapt, adapt!  Address, address, address!!”

That paragraph is followed later in the paper by a paragraph entitled, “Preventing challenging behaviors from entering the repertoire of young children with Down syndrome.”  And then there’s the three paragraphs that address just that.

And guys, let me tell, you, this is already happening with Noah.  That “typical Downs” behavior is starting to be a visitor who we are trying hard to make feel very unwelcome.  As I contemplate getting Noah involved in some group activities with his “typical” peers in the fall, it is not his cognitive level that worries me, it’s mostly behavioral.  Nothing worse than anybody would expect from a child with significant cognitive delays, but I am convinced that most of the behavioral issues can be addressed and conquered.

So, dear gymnastics mommies, please don’t be offended if Noah gets timed out or flicked for copying what he is seeing.  I know, I get it, there are some things that you have to deal with on a day-to-day basis that you know you can’t train out of your child at this point.  But with all the challenges wrapped up with parenting Noah, I think I’ll try to capitalize on his increased ability to imitate some other way. 🙂  I’ll let you know how it goes.

No Thanks, Mom – I’ll Do It Myself

Noah’s special needs gymnastics class is a big hit with him. It was there that I caught the very moment he hit one of those milestones that I thought somehow Noah would never hit, the “Hands off, I can do it myself” milestone.  He stepped up on the balance beam, and as I extended my hand to help him balance, he swatted it away and very emphatically said “No!”   Part of me wanted to stop him and say, “Hey, you can’t do that.  You need me, darn it,” and part of me was cheering with gusto, “Go, Noah, go!”  But all of me was in awe of this little boy with a mind of his own who is doing and will do great things with this life God gave him.  It all did serve to put me in my place and remind me that God’s got a plan for Noah’s life separate and apart from me.   Humbling and exciting all at the same time!

Somehow I’ve always pictured Noah at 30, still happy to take my hand and needing my help and reassurance at every juncture.  Honestly, I am always so touched to see the mamas of grown men with Down syndrome happily holding their hands as they meander through the mall or parking lot or where ever I happen to see them.

But laughingly then I also have to think of Matt, one of my heroes with Down syndrome who at age 30 is tattooed, loves a good margarita and is trying very diligently to kick a nasty cigarette habit.   Don’t get me wrong, Matt LOVES LOVES LOVES his mom, and perhaps he holds her hand from time to time, but I’m having a hard time picturing it.

Who will Noah grow up to be?  I don’t know, but I’m starting to sense he is going to be more than just an extension of me.  I know, I know, y’all already knew that.  Intellectually, of course, I always knew that, but it’s one thing to know something intellectually and another to be able to visualize it.  Well, I just got a Poloroid snapshot of that little dose of reality.  And I like it fine, just fine.

Rock on, Noah!  I’m straggling behind you, but I’m coming just as fast as I can.