Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Horse Therapy and Other Programs for Children with Disabilities

OH MY GOD!!! My copy of Ellie's Ears just arrived and I just read it and I'm dying because I LOVE IT!!!! Congratulations, Elizabeth and Rachel!! Um, Rachel, while you're here, I would like my brand new copy signed with a REALLY profound dedication! Love the humor, Elizabeth and the Dinosaur and Alien parts...but my favorite page is the very last one: "Yes, Sam I can hear you..." (Can't spoil the ending!)

Okay, now for my post:

There are many different types of programs available for children with a disability. Yesterday, my best friend in the world Julie, who I've already spoken about sent me this picture of our beautiful boy, Gus ruling the world on top of his horse! Gus is autistic.(Blogger is not letting me copy the photo)

*frustrated (will try later)*

And then there was also the picture of the proud Mom!(Use your imagination here, too)

With all of the shit we deal with on a daily basis, programs such as Equine Therapy/Saddle Therapy/Horse Therapy (call it what you will) represent an opportunity for our kids to let loose, relax and be kids...and we, finally, smile. We took Jordan to Horse Therapy and it was one of the rare moments where he wasn't angry or frustrated. He caressed the horse, brushed it, loved it and rode that bad boy. He loved the equipment and the sense of independence while riding without Mom or Dad holding his hand or insisting on the repetition of some new vocabulary. The vocabulary came spontaneously in his new world of horses.


The following article was posted by a very proud mom and member of the Pediatric Cochlear Implant Circle who gave me permission to share this with you: (Way To Go, Tessa!)

Friday night soccer: A six-week program gives children with special needs a league of their own.

By Karen Rosen
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 05/11/08

Five-year-old Tessa Christopher stands in a soccer goal as a ball flies toward her. She deflects it, not really meaning to, then makes a face and rubs where the ball hit her.

"You stopped it!" her dad, Stephen, calls to her, adding, "She's like, 'Ow.' "

But Tessa's ready for more.

She's one of about 40 special needs children ages 4-11 playing soccer at the McCleskey-East Cobb YMCA on Friday nights.

Gus Carpio, who founded the six-week program, knew these kids needed a league of their own.

"There's already plenty of stuff for kids that don't have disabilities," Carpio, 43, said. "Kids that have disabilities have a hard time finding a place to go sometimes."

Here, he said, "They feel like they belong, feel like they're part of a team."

Carpio, a Delta pilot, was already coaching a girls under-12 team when the McCleskey-East Cobb YMCA expressed interest in community outreach.

Carpio knew just what to do. His 8-year-old son Nico, who has cerebral palsy, was in a similar program at age 3.

Carpio put up fliers in March at schools and therapy centers. Expecting 10 or 15 kids to show up, he was surprised to see more than 30. The program had to expand to two fields and new kids are still trickling in.

Apryl Rivers spotted a flier where her son Nevan, 4, goes for speech therapy. She piled Nevan, who is autistic, and his brother Nathan, 6, into the car for the drive from DeKalb County.

"I wanted him to participate in something," she said. "When I saw this program, I was like, 'I don't care where I've got to go, I'll get there.' "

Rivers hopes Nevan learns social as well as soccer skills.

"I really want him to just be able to mingle and play with the kids," she said.

One small problem: Nevan won't put on the forest green soccer shirt given to every kid.

"I've chased him across the field and I give up," Rivers said.

In addition to the shirt, each kid receives a soccer ball. They're assigned a volunteer helper, who also wears a green shirt, or they play with a parent or older sibling.

Some of the helpers are from Carpio's under-12 team. They're recognizable by their pink socks and often go hand-in-hand with their charges across the field.

Tessa Christopher quickly became attached to Chloe Promiscuo, 10, who can teach her how to kick as well as fix the barrette in her hair.

Tessa was born deaf and has cochlear implants in both ears that help her hear.

"She needs improved socialization skills," Tessa's dad said, "but we're hoping that she gets a lot of balance and body control out of it."

Eventually, he said, "I'd certainly like to see her playing a game and following the rules."

This is 5-year-old Larson Bart's first experience with soccer.

"He's as fresh as they come, sports-wise," mom Sonia said. "He's getting wrapped up in the net as we speak."

Like Larson, many of the kids are at the younger end of the age spectrum.

"At this age, their parents are just now looking for a place where they can go out and do something athletic," said Carpio, whom the kids call "Mr. Gus."

"Soccer is a sport that you can sort of play even if you can't catch a ball. This just involves coming out and kind of running after the ball."

TOPSoccer also has a program for special needs kids, and Justin and Silvia Sykes have enrolled son Nathan, 6, who has Down Syndrome, in both activities.

"This is so very kind of Gus to do it because it takes a lot of patience and cooperation from volunteers," Silvia Sykes said.

Parents bring snacks and take pictures with cameras and cellphones. They give high-fives —- lots of high-fives —- to the kids.

"You can just see their faces; it's definitely something that they really look forward to," Michelle Rodriguez said as she watched her son Alek, 8. "They're able to put on their jerseys, and their shin guards and their cleats just like their siblings do."

Alek, who has mild cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus, said he likes defense, but offense is even better.

"It's sweaty work," he said.

Carpio's daughter, Gabi, 11, who plays on the under-12 team, has grown up understanding the patience involved in working with special needs kids.

"It's hard helping those little kids, because they just run off," she said.

What will they be able to do by the end of the program? "I think they'll need to learn a few more skills," Gabi said, "but I think they will at least get it."

And Gabi gets something out of it, too.

"I felt really proud of myself," she said.

After the last practice on Friday, they'll have a pizza party and a trophy ceremony. This fall, Carpio plans a full YMCA season and hopes to have more volunteers so parents can sit back and relax.

He recognizes the commitment each parent makes.

"The parents of kids with disabilities spend their whole day driving to this therapy, to that therapy, taking their kids to special events, so it takes a lot of effort for them to bring them to yet another event," he said. "That's why I always tell them, 'Thank you for bringing your child here.' "

By the end of practice, Nevan was wearing a green shirt just like the other kids.

"Did you have fun today?" Carpio asked him. "I'm really happy you came."

Carpio then said goodbye to Tessa. "I'll see you," she said, "all Fridays."


elizabeth said...

Thank you so much for always being so kind and supportive of our book!

Abbie said...

I gotta get a copy of Ellie's ears. My local library has a deaf kids group meet for readings once a month and this book would be perfect!!!

This isn't the first time that I have heard of horse therapy. I live in the town that is called the "Cancer Cluster" and along with an usual amount of childhood cases of a rare form of leukemia, there is a large amount of autistic children being diagnosed every year. There is a lot of programs for autistic children here and I believe this is one them. The video helped me understand tremendously how it is done!

Anonymous said...

Hey Jodi! I will be delighted to bring my special pen and sign your book! Just as long as you promise you'll sign my Rally Caps book too! To be honest, I haven't finished reading Rally Caps due to school craziness, but the minute my final ends next week, I'm going to sit in my bed, relax, and finish reading Rally Caps! I can definitely say that it's really good so far!!

Anonymous said...

Good Job! :)