Parenting

A disability won’t stop my child from learning

Anchel talks about how a new, simple game can help Syona’s continued development.

Syona and I playing our new "Stop and Go" game.

Picture this: It’s a beautiful day after a long, cold, snowy winter. You take your toddler for an afternoon excursion to the park, but at some point it’s time to call it a day and head home so you can pull dinner together for the family. You’re heading back when your little one decides to walk (or run full tilt) ahead of you before stopping to examine the oh-so-fascinating crack in the sidewalk. A five-minute walk turns into a 20-minute struggle to get home, and you may exhibit some moments that threaten your “parent of the year” award.

So here’s where my life is different: When it’s time for Syona and I to head home from the park, I spend two minutes strapping her into her wheelchair stroller and walk home. Directly from point A to B, often talking incessantly and labelling everything in our path. Or at least that’s what I did until last Friday.

On our way home I had one of those “a-ha” moments: Syona might not be able to stop and go like other toddlers but I could help provide that experience for her. As we were heading home, I told Syona we were going to play a new game. “Stop and Go” is pretty complex. When Syona tells me to “goooooo” I start moving forward at various speeds — sometimes at a really quick pace, other times a bit slower. When she says “stop” I just stop in my tracks. And, like any other toddler game, we repeat this about 100 times.

Syona caught onto the game right away and giggled incessantly every single time we did it, and I have to admit I was laughing pretty hard, too. You’ll often hear parents of children with special needs talk about how they are their child’s legs (or eyes, ears, hands, etc.) — and this game is a perfect example.

For those of us whose bodies do what our mind wants them to do, it is easy to overlook how much children learn through movement:

  • Children often learn how to sit, stand and walk by falling down a few times and doing their best to avoid falling
  • Movement helps children learn cognitive concepts as well (e.g. have you seen a child run full tilt into a wall? They learn pretty quickly that walls are solid and it is smarter to stop before they hit it — or avoid the wall altogether)
  • Mobility also plays a role in social and self-regulatory skills

I can’t imagine how frustrating it might be for Syona. Her mind tells her body to take a certain action… and her body just won’t cooperate. We’ve tried lots of different alternative therapies and various techniques and have had some pretty great success with the SPIO series of products. SPIO makes a compression garment that helps provide Syona with additional core stability and sensory input. When she’s wearing her vest it is almost as if it slows her muscles down and gives them an extra millisecond to respond in the way Syona wants them to. SPIO also has a story I feel good about: It was created by a parent and a therapist, is more affordable than similar products and profits go to a non-profit that provides therapy services to children with special needs, regardless of ability to pay.

Between finding products like this and coming up with random games, I am hoping that I can use my body and my abilities to continue to provide Syona with experiences that so many of us take for granted.

Do you have any special games you play with your children? How to you help your child participate?