As the school year ends, so do the services Melissa receives that help her continue on her road to progress and a mainstreamed lifestyle of normalcy. Within just a few weeks, I see her skills deteriorating from lack of work and routine and constant reminders. We do little bits at home each day, but things do not compare to some of the intensive attention she gets from her team at school on a daily basis. Her speech has already become so sloppy as we reach summer's halfway point, that I find I am asking her to repeat herself nearly 50% of the time. Her body is tired, evidenced by the fact that on most occasions, you will find her playing with her things while lying down. Her pencil and utensil grasp is back to square one.....Tubby can hold all these things better than she is aware of herself holding them.
These little things we can work on at home, and do so through play with clay, sewing cards, even Polly Pockets and American Girl dolls. She gets speech reminders everywhere she goes, as one of her best friends also happens to be our next door neighbor, whose MOM happens to be her speech therapist at school. Every aspect Melissa sees as play, or normal interaction, I find myself turning into some sort of therapy opportunity.
Enter in gross motor.......this would seem an easy thing to accomplish during the summer with all the outdoor play and running in the parks. All that is well and good, but for a kid like Melissa, who gets physically TIRED very easily, the motivation to get her to work....I mean, play.....is drastically missing, therefore creating a rather non-therapeutic environment for gross motor advancement. At school, this is taken care of through daily doses of Adaptive Phy Ed: where physical skills are individually worked on in 20 minute sessions, each and everyday. It is here where we have seen the most improvement with Melissa. It is also here where we can see the biggest decline during the summer, as it is those large motor pieces that come to the fore in summer play.
Her weekly therapeutic horseback riding helps some. But it's best effect is seen in Melissa's increased self confidence and motor planning skills. So, what did we do this summer to avoid the extra 2 hours of driving to physical therapy at $400 a pop? We signed up for swimming lessons AND gymnastics this year!Swimming is a great activity for both girls whose low muscle tone is a challenge to them. It gives them great muscle to brain input connections, and helps them improve their tone against the resistance of the water....without them realizing they are even working at it! It is an activity we will be trying to keep up year round for both girls. While they are able to be quite successful in the water with the help of water's natural buoyancy properties, there still is some work to be left for on the ground coordination and strength. That is where the gymnastics class comes in.
Our girls are not going to be elite gymnastics stars, nor even do as well to make a high school team. Nor do they desire to do that. Even in the beginner level, both girls, Melissa age 9 and Laura age 5, are leaps and bounds BEHIND the flexible 4 and 5 year olds in the class. And that is SO VERY OK. For all of us. The girls are working so hard to accomplish even the simplest moves, requiring motor planning (hard for Melissa), and coordinated movements requiring strength (hard for both of them). As I watch them struggle through each and every move, my heart aches a bit for the difficulties they push through that every other "normal" child takes for granted. But I need not be saddened, as they bounce over after class has ended, smiles from one ear to the other, exclaiming how much fun and how "awesome!" gymnastics class has been.
The trials ahead of them will always be there. And for the most part, neither of them recognize them as trials in themselves, rather merely as a simple part of their lives. Melissa is only just now beginning to realize that things seem to come easier to other kids her age, and is asking questions about why she is different. But it is not enough to stop her. She still has dreams like any other little girl her age, and it would be wrong to place limits on her simply because she "probably" can't do it. She may be the only one out there looking a little out of place, but by golly, she is trying her hardest, and doing it the best way she knows how, Laura following in similar, self-determined footsteps, having a huge barrel of fun all the while. And though I may watch them from the sidelines, through sometimes misty tears, I am SO VERY PROUD of my little girls.