Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Saturday Mornings at the Skating Rink: The Joy of Watching

For the past four months, Saturday mornings has been one of my favorite times of the week. That is when my son takes an ice skating class for kids with special needs.

The program is outstanding in so many ways. First of all, it is great deal – $35 for 12 sessions including skate rental. While getting something worthwhile for a cheap price is always a good thing, it is particularly valued by parents of kids with special needs. As therapies and medical expenses are so expensive, it is great to have something that doesn’t cost so much for a change.

The low cost, as well as the general success of the program, hinges on volunteers who give their time to work with the kids. While there are a handful of adults who organize everything, the heart of the program are the two dozen or so junior high and high school girls who work with the kids and teach them to skate.

My favorite part of the class is watching: watching the volunteers as they encourage and help the kids move across the ice; watching the kids’ faces as they gain confidence and discover that they, too, can skate. But, most especially, I like watching the faces of the other parents. Their faces show the almost indescribable joy they feel as they see their child enjoying an activity that, at one time, most thought was beyond their capabilities.

It is a feeling that I can relate to.

When Kai was younger, he seemed incredibly clumsy. He was uncoordinated. He lacked core strength. When we got him into occupational therapy, we found out that many kids with autism have challenges with body awareness, muscle weakness, motor planning, and impaired balance.

I did not think that I would see the day that Kai would be able to skate like other kids.

This past Saturday, he made one lap around the rink, side by side with his helper, but without holding her hand. He immediately came off the ice because he wanted to tell me that he had skated 150 steps all by himself. I whooped with joy. After two more laps, he came off again. He had taken 250 steps, he said proudly. “A new record!” I proclaimed, as he quickly returned to the ice to skate more laps.

Alyse, his young helper, was beaming as she told me that Kai was doing a fantastic job. He doesn’t need to skate with her anymore, she said. He is ready to skate on his own.

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