A Very Special Physical Education Class

May 23, 2011
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Research has found that youth with developmental disabilities tend to be less fit than their nondisabled peers, and I do fear the health risks of a sedentary lifestyle for these children and their families.  Maybe if more of us could believe the simple things we see and take time to apply these practices, daily positive results would come with a lot less effort and time.

I bring this up every time I watch one of the special needs fitness groups leave our gym after an hour fitness class.  It’s clear that “fun” and play are a great mixture for results.  One class in particular comes every week.  Nine special education students from a nearby high school are scheduled for an hour fitness class.  Before their first class two months ago we reviewed the list of individual diagnoses, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, Cognitive Impairment, Arthrogryposis, Microcephaly, Seizure Disorder and Developmental Delays.  I remember their first day, very hesitant as they entered the building and very careful and tentative with every new activity and person. In a short period of time the trainers and I were pleased to keep every student active and their staff pleased with the content and structure of the class. Selfishly, I must admit I do enjoy Abel hurrying off the bus and running into my office to let me know “Suzanne, let’s go!  It’s time for class!”

These teenagers and their aides are on task as we go from their schedule of warm-ups, games, t-ball, stacking cups, and obstacle courses to specific exercises to develop endurance, coordination, flexibility and muscular tonus.  However, lately we had to find 5 extra minutes for “Dance Party.”  The class does not end until we perform moves such as the “Irving Kick” and the “Carly Nod” to popular music.  Every student in the class has their own eight count to create dance steps.  It is announced loudly and we’re all moving together until the final beat.

I can’t measure their confidence, pride and joy but I can “see” they trust and believe we care.  And each week I “see” the importance of play/movement for there are more smiles and more attempts to communicate, participate and complete their fitness stations.

Author: suzanne