of a two-part series about the YMCA’s gymnastics program.
Liberty County’s Armed Services Family YMCA has for some time offered programs for children with special needs. The programs, called Differently-abled Sports, include swimming, basketball, soccer and baseball. Two months ago, Victoria Oldag, manager and supervisor of the YMCA’s gymnastic class, coordinated with Linda Vaughn, director for special needs children on the Liberty County School Board, and added gymnastics to the list.
So far, the gymnastic course has drawn six participants. Most are children diagnosed with autism and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Oldag, who also is a foster parent and has worked with several special-needs children, said she wants to get the word out to the community about the program and how it can benefit children.
"The class is really made for these kids," Oldag said. "It’s not as structured, it’s more go with the flow. We have volunteers that come in and they help us sometimes. We have at least two coaches per participant."
According to the Autism Society of America, autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others.The National Institute of Mental Health defines ADHD as one of the most common mental disorders in children. Children with ADHD have impaired functioning in multiple settings, including home, school and in relationships with peers. If untreated, the disorder can have long-term adverse effects into adolescence and adulthood.
Oldag said gymnastics helps the children to learn to focus on one specific task at a time and complete it. The task might be as simple as learning to stand in line and wait their turn or as complex as learning to complete a tumble.
"We try and make it simple and give them one task at a time, and it really helps them with flexibility, coordination, muscle strength, and we do conditioning where they run, and I think some of the kids really like it. They become excited," Oldag said.
"You have to learn each child," gymnastics coach Michelle Alexander said, explaining how coaching this course varies compared to her traditional coaching methods.
Alexander said some of the children require constant praise while others prefer to perform their tasks when they think they aren’t being watched.
But with a bit of patience and a lot of determination, the coaches say the kids are slowly progressing.
"Right now, they are all just learning coordination and balance," Alexander said.
"We are in the beginner’s stage," Oldag said. "We are not at a team level yet, but that is our goal."
Oldag said she thinks they can develop the kids to the point they are able to compete in the Special Olympics.
"I’ve had a lot of people ask for it, and I think once we get the word out and let people know that there is something special for these kids, more will join," Oldag said.
Oldag said they are trained and able to work with all types of special-needs children, including those in wheelchairs. For more information, call 368-9622.