So we have started this journey with a combination of one to one training, recreational gymnastics, tumbling; acrobatics and a personal progression pathway for him to help him achieve his goal of competing. She has shown him she believes in him too and that she will support him to get there. Coaches like this need recognition and validation because they themselves are stepping outside disability constructs, they are seeing the child, their passion and their hopes and dreams.
Also noticed by myself and others is he naturally starts wanting to share with others the skills he has learnt to help them achieve the skill. When he struggles because of the perceived demands one way that’s been helpful to overcome this is to enable him to help others learn a skill. Which may be why he has told me and others he wants to be a gymnastics coach. Gymnastics has offered him so many opportunities to develop interpersonal skills, to be part of a community that shares his passion, to socialise and work through issues that may come up in the safety of a supportive environment.
When he was younger my son tried dance lessons but unfortunately a lack of understanding, gossip and preconceived ideas of what Autism looks like meant that he was asked to leave the dance studios which really knocked his confidence and upset very much; this resulting in a refusal to do what he enjoyed most, dancing. However, we as a family have recently found a dance studio where he has again begun dancing, enjoying musical theatre and also cheer-leading.
I marveled at how far he has come over the last year when he recently expressed his eagerness to take part in a show, which he continues to prepare for on the 29th of March. Another opportunity to have fun, to personally challenge himself, to increase self-esteem and challenge the views others hold about his dis…abilities. A perfect learning opportunity for everyone.
What is sad is on this journey with him is that I have come across and continue to come across the difficulties well documented in disability studies. Of the destructive, negative constructs that dis-empower not only children but also adults with disabilities. The lack of opportunities, lack of facilities, training, funding, support networks. How perceptions of disability impact upon not only children with disabilities but their parents.
For Instance, recently the views, opinions, assumptions of professionals within the local authority expressed to myself and others that a child attending activities that are not for disabilities only equates to the documented needs are embellished/exaggerated in some way and do not require support.
That only education and socialisation in a formal school setting is the only acceptable option for children like my son, that attending groups of the child’s own choosing is forced Isolation. The rigidity of services in regards to what constitutes an appropriate, efficient and suitable education, socialisation and appropriate peers yet they place no value on the views of the child and when in receipt of them they are not shared or it could be viewed as withheld.
On one occasion when I showed a professional my sons certificates of achievements over the last 15 months the response was “anyone can print certificates off the internet” thereby deliberately dismissing and minimising my child’s accomplishments. In reality, children’s development is not static but fluid, can take place in a variety of settings and many factors can and do contribute to that.
There is immense scope and fluidity in children’s personal growth and development which is specific to that child because every child is different, no two children are the same.
More than once I have seen others lack the confidence in him and struggled to believe in him because of their perceptions of myself the parent, the perceived behaviours of my family, our disabilities and possibly the energy, time and effort required to work with a child who hides his personal difficulties through masking; who does not fit into the stereotypical model of disability created by society; a child who challenges their constructs around that young person.
My son is his own best ambassador, he enables me to help him by being able to express himself, through various mediums, over the last 15 months he has begun to read, obtained certificates in RHS Gardening, Crest Awards, Gymnastics, and is now getting ready to participate in a show with his peers from his dance studios.
He hopes to compete in disability men’s artistic gymnastics within 6 months. Wants to create his own Vlog to help others to know they can achieve their dreams. This is a young boy who 15 months ago was too scared to attend school, was expressing his anxiety and demand avoidance in lots of ways that were not helpful to himself or others. He has set his own challenges and succeeded; it’s been a roller coaster but a journey that is not easily forgettable.
He has taught me more than any text book, or professional I have ever known. He has shown me how a child can flourish when others take the time to listen and actually hear in order to support. He has shown me his own personal insight and understanding into his own struggles and how he then uses this to help others.
Yes, he has his challenges, yes he struggles but his own understanding of his own disabilities has given him the knowledge and understanding to be his own ambassador, to say what does and does not work for him. I am so proud of him.
Disability constructs are destructive, every child is unique, every child has potential, every child deserves an opportunity to achieve their dreams and aspirations. It is morally wrong for others in positions of authority to determine who they view as worthy of support, who will give back in the future, who deserves support via their depleted budgets, because in the right environment with the right support, patience, time and effort children can and do flourish. EVERY CHILD MATTERS.