When your child is diagnosed with autism, you begin to look for ways you can help and try to figure out what you need to do. Since 2013 autism has been classified as Autism Spectrum Disorder and encompasses several different disorders, some of which did not have funding or support prior to this classification. Having a child with autism often leaves you feeling lost and embarrassed, hopelessly trying to figure out what you need to do in order to understand how you and your child are going to live with autism.
As you may know, I founded We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym as a place for children with special needs to play with other typically developing children and to have the sensory equipment they need to aid in their development. We Rock is much more to me than a sensory gym. It provides my family with a chance to interact with the world outside of our home. Before I founded We Rock, I attempted to utilize the benefits of many of the sensory gyms in my local area in order to aid my son Gabriel, who has autism. Although many of these gyms help children with autism and sensory processing disorders, they do not have an open door policy to allow all children to play. This meant my daughter, Sophia, was left out. Founding We Rock the Spectrum allowed my family to have a place that both of my children could go to play and have fun with each other. My inclusive philosophy allows all children to play and have a great time.
My first experience with autism did not occur when my son was diagnosed, but instead occurred when I was two months pregnant with him. I was called into Sophia’s school, feeling confused as to why I was asked to meet with one of the teachers. I soon found out Sophia was the only one in her class who played with a boy who had autism. The school felt it was important enough to express their gratitude for Sophia’s big heart, and I could not have been more proud of her. Little did I know at the time the impact autism would have on my life.
When Gabriel was diagnosed, I dove into researching and trying to gather all of the information I could in regards to autism to figure out how I could help Gabriel grow and develop. He seemed fine and typical at first, which is the case with most children with autism. However, at the age of only a year, Gabriel started showing signs and was diagnosed with autism at two and a half years old. Many thoughts went through my head, as my husband and I worked to wrap our brains around how to best assist Gabriel as well as how to explain what was going on to family and friends.
One friend turned me onto the book, Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew, written by Ellen Notbohm. This book turned out to be a lifesaver with its unique approach of explaining the challenges and effects of autism. It was so influential that I was compelled to buy a copy for everyone in my family so they could all understand what challenges Gabriel was facing.
One of my favorite moments at the gym is when a parent of a child with autism comes in for the very first time. Often they are lost, embarrassed and unsure of what they should do. This is when I get to wrap my arms around them and let them know everything will be fine. Even though they feel their lives are over, I let them know their lives are just beginning and the next step on the journey has begun by coming to the gym.
After their emotions have ebbed, I hand them an article by Ellen Notbohm in order for them to learn from it. I also make sure they know what our gym is all about and help them choose the right therapy options for their children with a variety of therapists in the area that can help them.
At all our locations, every owner is educated to help parents figure out what the next steps are in working with their child with autism. This has helped many parents move forward and understand how to help their child in ways they that may never have thought of on their own. Parents are always coming back and thanking us over and over again for helping their special needs child. Happy with their child’s progress and their new support system, they usually become regular patrons of our gyms.
Our We Rock team can be the beginning of a new journey for a child with autism and his or her family. Knowing there are so many parents at our gym who face the same or similar challenges allows parents to form support groups with each other, giving them the support structure they need at the time when they need it the most. Parents are encouraged and able to let it out at We Rock the Spectrum.
Timing Can Be Everything
Research has shown that it is critical to diagnose autism at a very early age. The best age is as young as two years old. When a child is diagnosed this early and introduced to the proper therapy, they have the best fighting chance to be ready for school at the typical age and to feel they can perform many tasks independently.
For my story, Gabriel was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder, which then led to his diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. This change came to have several syndromes such as autism, Asperger syndrome and pervasive development disorder, which are all put under the umbrella of autism to allow the funding needed for the necessary therapy and support of children with these disorders.
Nothing makes my heart happier as the owner of We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym than knowing the difference we can make as a team by helping parents of children with special needs. The look on the faces of the parents when they see the hope that we show them and the reality that their child can have a fairly normal life that does not have to be defined by a disorder is one of the most rewarding parts of founding We Rock the Spectrum.