Back in April, I blogged a little bit about my anxiety and very real struggle of signing up my autistic son for a new extra-curricular activity. Especially extra-curricular activities where J is the only special needs kid in the room or team. Signing up J for the Sanford Power Summer Weights Class at his high school was a really nerve racking choice for me.
Going into it, I really knew nothing about the program. I knew some of J’s XC teammates were signing up for it. I knew the class was run by trainers from Sanford Power alongside some of the high school football coaches and that’s about all I knew. I knew none of the adults would be familiar with J or autism. I worried that J might be too distracting to the other students enrolled. I worried that it would be too hard for J–that weight lifting, balance, coordination, speed, and all of the other things the program would focus on would be very challenging and could possibly lead to meltdowns. I had a lot of worries. In fact, two nights before J started the class I couldn’t sleep. I just kept having hazy half awake scenarios of all the things that could go wrong with this class flying through my head. I worried that the trainers and coaches would feel like I was an obnoxious helicopter parent if I stuck around. I worried that after a few days we would all decide that this just wasn’t going to be the class for J.
June 4th finally came and J attended the first class. I hung out at the side of the gym while J lined up with the rest of the kids and tried to complete the benchmark tests: long jumps, height jumps, sprints, etc. I think it took at most a full minute for the staff to figure out which kid in the bunch was the kid with autism (I had emailed the coordinator explaining J and our situation). J had to be instructed multiple times on each task–not because he wasn’t paying attention, but because he just couldn’t understand what to do with his body. At the end of the first class, I still wasn’t sure if this was going to work, but I introduced myself to the Sanford trainers, and to my surprise, they were still totally on-board with having J in the class.
Not only were they on board, but they were phenomenal with J. I accompanied J every day but hung out in the weight room office (just in case J had a meltdown or something unexpected happened–the staff was super supportive, especially when they realized that my only purpose for being there was if an emergency happened) and brought in work to do while the trainers worked with J and adjusted some of the exercises to J’s level. Since J has such low muscle tone, zero control, and zero strength, much of his workload included stretch bands, the body bar, and low weight dumbbells. The first couple of days, I thought J might have a meltdown. All of it was hard in the beginning, the coordination, the physical load–at one point, on the second day, J just walked away from his trainer visibly agitated. When I asked the trainer after what had happened, he said, “he just started rattling off numbers, so I figured it was getting too much for him and he needed a break.” I was so impressed. I’m not sure if his trainer knew anything about autism or not, but he knew exactly what to do in that situation. Not only that, but he stayed super positive with J and from that day on, J loved–absolutely loved–going to weight training every day. In fact, he was super disappointed when he found out that he’d miss out on some of his classes when we went to Hawaii. Hands down, without a doubt, this was the best extra curricular class outside of XC and track that J has ever participated in.
I’m so grateful to all of the staff that worked with J. He really did have some phenomenal trainers working with him, and every person he worked with had a new way of figuring out the best way to work with J. Somehow along the way, J figured out how to do lunges (this is huge–he’s struggled with lunges forever), modified planks, core work on an exercise ball, and more. He was by far the weakest, least coordinated kid in the room, but he really started to gain confidence in his skills. Like I said, he absolutely loved that class. I loved that class. Those trainers were amazing–they even gave us tips for at home practice.
J was super sad when he realized at the end of July that it was coming to an end. He’s already very enthusiastically informed me that he’s doing it again next year 🙂
I always feel like signing up J for new things is a crap shoot. And it’s very highly stress inducing for me. But when we have experiences like this–experiences where he’s telling me every day he “can’t wait to go to weights today”, where I see his coordination improve and his comfort level with his own body increase–that risk and stress really pays off. I’m so grateful we had such a good experience with this class, and I’m super grateful for the awesome staff who was so willing to work with J and adjust J’s program to a level where he felt challenged while at the same time successful.