Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Dear Gym Manager

Well, trampoline was going pretty well until it wasn't, but I suppose that's par for the course. Here's another letter for you. I think it explains things pretty well. 


Dear Gym Manager,

Thank you for taking the time to talk today as well as last week when Sky was asked to leave John's trampoline class. Here is the link to the post I mentioned. Though the kid described here isn't exactly like my son (no two kids with autism are alike, after all), the points it makes are relevant. Sky does not always have control over what he is doing/saying, and sometimes his body feels quite foreign to him. This, in fact, is one of the reasons we've chosen to put him in trampoline --to help him gain body awareness and control. I believe Sky experienced a loss of body control (which he described to you as his brain failing to convince his stomach muscles to do what they were supposed to do) last week when he couldn't do the warm-up exercise. I believe this both because he told me that was the case and because this week, before he went onto the floor for trampoline class with Amy, he lay down in the middle of the floor in front of the lockers and tried to do the same exercises (and then was ecstatic that he could do them). In other words, despite John’s belief that Sky was testing the boundaries and engaging him in a power struggle, he was actually trying to figure out why his body wouldn’t do what he wanted it to.  

He tried to explain this to John but was silenced before he could. This is where I have a problem. See, it's important that we hear and believe a kid like Sky when he tries to explain what is going on with him because 1) we can learn from him, 2) appropriate expressive and receptive language skills are harder for him, so when he feels unheard he falls apart, and 3) he needs to be able to be heard so he can make it in a world for which autism makes him less well suited. Autism rates are currently 1 in 68 children, a 30% increase from 2 years ago. Based on current tends, some estimate the rates could rate could be 1 in 10 ten years from now.  Chances are you will see many kids like Sky at your gym in the coming years, so I hope his experiences can help your staff become better aware of how to best teach kids like him. 

On the whole, we've been very happy with the quality of instruction our kids have received at your gym, but I think we can find a solution other than removing Sky from the class when a situation like what happened in John's class occurs. Sky was not being intentionally confrontational, disobedient, or defiant, and his inability to do the warm-up and then his lack of opportunity to explain why he wasn't able to do it led him to leave the floor (without permission) to seek me out for help. After all, after many years of being punished for things he can't control and bullied by classmates for his odd and somewhat clueless behavior, he's been taught to stand up and speak out, and when that fails, he knows to go to an adult he trusts. When John refused to let him speak, he lost his ability to advocate for himself. It was frustrating for both of us to feel like our attempts at advocacy on his behalf failed. Like the kid in the post above, Sky works harder longer just to appear and behave "normally." When that breaks down, it devastates him to be told he is just testing boundaries or making excuses. Since his behavior can sometimes betray him, he knows that his only hope is that people will believe what he says.

To avoid communication breakdowns in the future, I hope we can work with you and with John to come up with a strategy to enable Sky to express what is going on with him while also not causing disruption to instruction or being assumed by the instructor to be misbehaving.  Of course, we will continue to work at home to make sure Sky understands the expectations we all have for him. But, we also need to know that he has a way to be heard. I am happy to talk with you about strategies that have worked and think with you about how they can be implemented in the gym setting.



This week, I was able to put Sky into a session with a different teacher, but what do I do next week? Sky loves trampoline and he even loves John's teaching techniques. Me, I'm not so sure. How about you? What do you think? How would you handle things differently?


Shelley said...


Mom on the Edge said...

Woo hoo! That seemed to work!

Anonymous said...

Hello! I've been reading your blog for a while, but have never previously commented. I only know your family and situation from what you've written and I do not have personal experience with anyone who is autistic, so I probably should not be commenting, but you asked what your readers would do in this situation. I don't know what I would do. I can only tell you that from what you have written, it seems that Sky should stay in John's class until he chooses to leave (or until John refuses him). I say this because of the following two sentences: "When John refused to let him speak, he lost his ability to advocate for himself." and "Sky loves trampoline and he even loves John's teaching techniques." Good luck!

Mom on the Edge said...

Thanks for the comment. This is what I am thinking, too. Though I have to admit, I'm more than just a little annoyed that the gym has chosen not to be proactive. I'm learning that my annoyance and Sky's happiness are not always related.