All Work & No Play …

…Makes Anna a crabby and stressed girl! To combat this, I chose my internship to be [almost] all play! I spent my Sundays this semester working with the wonderful kiddos at Adapted Gymnastics.

Adapted Gymnastics is a program put on once a week that is for kids with disabilities. We take over the gymnastics facility, and let the kids run wild … well, maybe it’s a little more involved than that. However, to someone walking in off the street, that’s probably what he or she would see.

Each week we have a bunch of volunteers come in as Coaches. Two Coaches pair up and team up with a child, and they all hang out for an hour. First we stretch and divide up in to groups. One group stays on the floor, which is the bouncy floor where the ‘actual’ gymnasts do their floor routines, and play games. A second group gets to go to the beams and vault first. The vault sends them soaring on to a couple of squishy mats; the beams are a few feet off the floor, and really help them work on their balance. A third group gets to go to the trampoline and foam pits, which is the kids’ favorite. There are two large trampolines, one walkway trampoline, and a couple of foam pits. Similar to ball pits, but they contain foam blocks instead of balls.

I have always heard that laughter and smiling is contagious, but I’ve never really believed it until this semester. You’d truly believe it, too, if you saw the eyes of a five year old light up Photo0371as you praise him for making it across the balance beam. Another time the truth of that statement hit me was the first time I helped Grace jump on the trampoline (left). We jumped for a few minutes, and as we sat down for a break, I noticed how sore my body felt. I forgot it immediately, though, when I looked up and saw her face. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I felt the effects of that trampoline escapade for a week, but it never really bothered me; I was too excited to help her jump some more the next time.

Part of the requirements of the internship was that I had to complete a presentation about a particular diagnosis. (Yes, I actually did have to do some work.) I chose a diagnosis that I didn’t particularly know a lot about because I figured it’d be a good learning experience. What I didn’t realize was how much that it would affect me mentally and emotionally. It was hard to research the diagnosis, because I don’t see the kids I work with as anything other than kids. I’ve never seen any two kids that are exactly alike, and these kids are no different. Each kid has different strengths and weaknesses, just as you would see if you walked in to any classroom around the country.Photo0358 At the start, I was intimidated because I didn’t know each individual diagnosis; I thought that I would not know how to deal with the children because of that. But I realized that I didn’t need to know their diagnosis, and I would rather not know. I don’t want to treat them any differently because I might have a sub-conscious pre-conceived notion about them because I know some generalized traits of their diagnosis. To me, that’s the same as people automatically assuming that I’m hotheaded because I’m a redhead. When I see these kids, I recognize them by name, not by their diagnosis.

I have always loved volunteering, and found it to be a great stress reliever. I cannot wait to continue with Adapted Gymnastics semester. Now that I am at the end of my internship, I have a special place in my heart for every single one of the kids that I worked with this semester. Two hours once a week is not a huge time commitment, and it’s more rewarding than anything else I’ve ever done.