Joyful Milestones in Adaptive Lessons for Special Needs Children


Other moms of special needs children will know the heart-crushing feeling of seeing children the same age as your child accomplish milestones and know that your child is not in the same place or is struggling to get there.

Adaptive lessons for special needs children have helped my child meet his goals and milestones and have helped us both find joy.

When my son was an older toddler, I saw Facebook friends posting videos of their young toddlers, babies I thought, climbing stairs and running. Running. My son wasn’t walking yet. He was getting around by doing an army-crawl move, pulling himself by his arms and inching himself forward. It was hard at the time to see children much younger hitting their physical milestones before him. Comparisons are tough for parents of special needs children.

I remember running into a family friend at this time and her telling me that if a child wasn’t working on one thing, such as walking, he was working on something else. I now know that to be true for my son. When he was an infant and toddler, he was listening and paying attention to speech and language. You could see the focus on his face as he followed conversations. Now, years later, he is quite the talker and has incredible listening comprehension and an impressive vocabulary for a 6-year-old (proud mama here)! 

That said, the long process of getting a diagnosis for my son has been a difficult journey. He has what is considered a rare disorder, and we’re still in the years-long diagnosis process. At this stage, I am in a good place because I accept and cherish my role as a caretaker. I realize how lucky I am that I get to be this boy’s mom. 

Moreover, one benefit of being a special needs parent is that you get to experience how impactful it is when your child learns a new skill or ability, no matter how small. It’s a celebration!

The smallest gains are huge moments for your child and for your family. Not all parents will get to know the wonderful feeling of full-body joy and pride when they see their child climb up the rock wall at the playground for the very first time, the proud look on their face at the top. “Mama, did you see me?!”

Sometimes these moments can be bittersweet too. At a recent trip to North Beach, I walked along the water’s edge with my son. Then, without a word, he broke out in a run down the beach in front of me, his feet making imprints along the soft earth where the water meets the sand. At that moment, he had no cares in the world. Running down the beach in front of me, he looked just like any other child. Free and carefree. It was the perfect moment. We don’t know what tomorrow will hold; there may be challenges, injuries, and hard days ahead. But at that moment, in that space and time, it was heaven.

Now, at the end of the day, as I put my son to bed, turn out the light, and kiss his forehead, I tell him, “I love you just the way you are. I love everything about you.” I see his body relax, a smile on his lips, and he knows he is universally accepted. I mean these words with my whole being. 

Though, of course, I will remain his advocate and give him encouragement and a gentle push when he needs it.

Here are some adaptive lessons for special needs children that have worked for our family and helped us meet developmental goals and milestones.

These lessons help introduce activities that he can enjoy to stay active and healthy during the course of his life. They also help to provide the consistent level of activity my son needs to maintain muscle and to avoid injuries. 

The standard number of physical therapy appointments covered by insurance assumes a short-term use of PT to treat an injury and is not reflective of the “habilitative” use of therapy, which is needed for people with chronic conditions to stay mobile and help with regular daily activities. Depending on the health insurance carrier, some families are able to apply for more PT visits and get approved for the number of visits that the child needs in a year, and other families need to get creative and figure out other ways for their child to be active, such as through doing home PT exercises or by participating in other physical activities like adaptive lessons.

These adaptive lessons also provide physical activity in a fun atmosphere, whereas traditional office PT may be difficult for younger children who just want to play.

Special Needs Martial Arts Lessons at ONTA Studio in Williston

child participating in martial arts lesson

After my son had an injury this past winter, a physician recommended special needs martial arts lessons as part of his physical therapy. After hearing this at his appointment, my 6-year old, who was already convinced at this time that he was a ninja, yelled,

I am taking Martial Arts!

Special needs lessons at ONTA Studio in Williston focus on core strength and increasing proprioception, or spatial awareness, and the ability to control one’s body, which are things my son needs to help him with his condition. Although some of the other children in the group are on the autism spectrum and my son is not, it is a good fit for him. He does not feel out of place at all and has made friends in the class.

ONTA Studio provides both one-on-one and small group special needs kids classes. They have extensive experience in special education and have worked with special needs kids with different diagnoses and abilities, including autism spectrum disorders, sensory integration conditions, and behavioral issues. Group special needs classes are $25 and the studio offers a free lesson for new students.

I’ve been extremely impressed with Sensais Zack and Lauren’s patience with the kids, including when a child is having a difficult day. We all know those days.

ONTA Studio also provides other classes for kids and adults. They have even offered a week-long Ninja Science Camp during school breaks a couple of times a year. 

Adaptive Snowboarding through Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports at Bolton Valley Resort in Richmond

child snowboarding on hill with instructor

Prior to obtaining a diagnosis that has a recommendation to avoid activities and sports with potential impacts or falls, my son participated in adaptive snowboarding lessons through Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports at Bolton Valley Resort. The instructors were incredible. They were patient and knew how to encourage my son, who was fearful, out onto the snow on his snowboard. They picked up on his talk of ninjas and engaged him in his interests. It was beautiful to watch the adaptive instructors work with children and adults on the mountain.

Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports offers a number of different programs for children and adults with disabilities through sports programs and activities. They have a scholarship program, where no one is turned away for ability to pay. Adaptive lessons for us were priced on a sliding scale. Vermont Adaptive fundraises to be able to support people’s ability to participate in their programs. They provide year-round programming, which includes alpine skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports; kayaking, canoeing, stand-up paddle boarding, sailing, cycling, hiking, rock climbing, tennis, and horseback riding.

Adaptive Aquatic Lessons at the YMCA in Burlington

boy swimming in pool with swim noodle

For my son’s condition, swimming is highly recommended as a safe activity. The water helps cushion joints, and the resistance it provides is a great way to build and maintain muscle. 

To say my son enjoys swimming is an understatement. I believe there is something inherently joyful and therapeutic about swimming for children. While at the pool, I have also seen moms with children on the autism spectrum have those same joy-filled moments at their children’s adaptive swim lessons, as their child puts their head (and ears!) in the water for the very first time. 

The Burlington YMCA offers 30-minute lessons for children or adults with physical or developmental needs where students work one-on-one with an instructor. In the past, they have partnered with Autism Speaks for a grant that provides six free swim lessons for children and adults who have an Autism diagnosis. Depending on the year, they may have funds available. They also provide other swim lessons for youth and adults.

These are some local adaptive activities that have helped my family. Do you know a kiddo who needs adaptive lessons? Where have you felt supported locally?Joyful Milestones in Adaptive Lessons for Special Needs Children


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