Honestly, not so good – this balance thing. He is clumsy. He loses his balance easily. This is just one of the reasons that I’m happy that he has a high pain tolerance (you’ll read about that in a later post). Even at 12, this child falls, bumps, and runs into everything and anything. At first I figured he was ‘just like me.’ I’m not the most graceful person in the world (this summer I thought I broke my foot in the toilet – true story, and VERY, VERY funny). Alas, I discovered that children on the spectrum frequently have challenges with motor skills such as sitting, walking, running, or jumping.
When he was four, he spent two hours a week with a Physical Therapist (PT). Honestly, I did not know that it would help – but I had a good friend who is an ARNP (who happened to be Tucker’s primary provider) and another who was a Physical Therapist (they also happen to be sisters). It happened in conversation. I was telling his ARNP about his struggles – he would bump into everything, fall over a pebble, and even struggled to go down the stairs. Tucker’s balance issues were compounded by the fact that he was 5 inches taller and 40 pounds heavier than the ‘average’ four-year old. He is genetically predisposed to be a big child…so this combined with the spectrum stuff made things even more difficult. She talked to her sister (the PT) to see if she had any ideas. That is when I found out that the PT could address poor muscle tone, balance, and coordination.
First, she evaluated his developmental level and abilities. Once she identified his challenges she developed activities that would help those areas. So, for one hour, twice a week she ran him on floor level balance beams, ladders, ropes, and around cones. She took him outside and had him run around the piles of goose poop (the office was near a small lake). It worked wonders!!! He can still be pretty clumsy, but nothing compared to what he would have been. It’s the thing about having a child on the spectrum, I often wonder where we would be if we hadn’t experienced these supports and early interventions.
This past spring we realized that we were regressing. The combination of beginning puberty and the spectrum was making it challenging for Tucker to move in appropriate ways. It was becoming difficult to get his body going in the right direction and to recognize where he was in space. Finding help can become more difficult as your child ages because they become increasingly aware of how they are different (and all they want to be is ‘normal’).
This time, we decided to work with a personal trainer. This way he could receive many of the same services, but under the guise of increasing athleticism. I went to our local exercise facility to speak to the coordinator of training. We talked and traded emails for two weeks until we identified the right fit. The trainer had to be smart, calm, not a ‘yeller’ – someone compassionate, yet firm. Then, I met Ryan. Ryan came to our meeting already having researched ASD. He came in knowing some of the difficulties Tucker would face. He was awesome. My new favorite member of Tucker’s team.
Not only did Ryan research what types of exercises and activities would help Tucker, he also realized what types of environments Tucker would need. He would prepare activities in quiet spaces and give him ‘free’ time. Ryan kept Tucker scheduled – always letting him know what was next, he ‘rolled’ with Tucker – while maintaining what he needed to do to help Tucker succeed. Did it help? Oh. My. Goodness. All of a sudden Tucker could stretch, he could run without looking like he was in pain, he could walk in a straight path again, he stopped bumping into things, I haven’t seen him trip in months….
Ryan graduated and turned Tucker over to Mitchel. Who is equally awesome.
My favorite part of this? Tucker asking me to keep in touch with these two young men. He would like to invite them to his first NFL game when he plays for the Vikings. “I’ll even get them unlimited hot dogs and front row tickets.”
I’m sure you will Tucker, I’m sure you will…