Independence is our goal!

Last spring break, when my son and I were en route to Salt Lake City on our way to the National Ability Center ski program in Park City, UT, we sat in front of a representative from Nike Shoe. I talked to him about how amazing my son was and yet was still dependent on parents or an aide to tie his shoes for him. And low and behold, Nike was already working on this, a shoe called the FLYEASE. Another really important piece of the independence puzzle for people with disabilities–shoes that work for people with motor challenges! Click here to read about it. The shoe was inspired by a teenager with cerebral palsy that wrote a letter to Nike asking for their help in creating a shoe that he could put on himself once he went to college. It’s a great story.

My son has since learned to tie his own tennis shoes, which as a teenager, is a great great victory for all of us. It means he is less dependent on an aide or a caregiver for getting dressed. He still wears all elastic clothes because zipping and snapping are difficult with his low motor planning, but he can now get his shoes on himself. Last year, he bought his very first pair of lace shoes.

Anyone with a disability can probably relate to my son’s sense of accomplishment when a new task that has been very hard to accomplish (years of occupational therapy spent trying to master this skill) is finally conquered. The first time he was able to tie something was on a hoodie he was wearing. We were in a restaurant and he screamed, “Mom, I am cured of my untying!” We are so proud of him!

 

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Growing Up through Skiing

For several years now, I’ve been taking my son snow skiing in Park City, UT, using a wonderful adaptive program called the National Ability Center. They have recreational therapists that work with people with various disabilities teaching them winter sports and running summer camps. I cannot recommend this program highly enough, although it’s popularity means you have to get your child’s paperwork in months in advance. My son started in 2010 and this year was his fourth time going to Utah during the winter.

Here’s an interview with my son about the experience.
What did you think when you first tried to ski this year:
“At first when I went on [the snow], I was very scared, but then was very worried when I was ready to go, but when I was already skiing, I noticed that I was still in contact with my guiding. I did try to keep balancing.”
Did you enjoy it?
“Yes I did. I was making sure I wouldn’t fall.”
What’s great about skiing?
“It’s just that it has a great sense of because I love the snow. But, this year there wasn’t enough snow. It was kind of snowless.”
Would you like to go back again?
Sure.

Ski trip teaches confidence and courage

It’s been three years since I had the budget or the time to take my son snow skiing in Park City, Utah, at the National Ability Center. And it’s expensive to get there from Austin, so this is a pretty big chunk of change just to ski for four days. But, after it’s over, I cannot imagine not having this experience for him. He’s super excited to go and it’s one of the only things that makes him spontaneously talk to people at school.

He’s still enthusiastic when we get home and his teachers and therapists all report that he is more social before and after his ski trip because he has such great memories of the trip and is motivated to talk because of this experience. For someone with autism, it’s a pretty big deal to initiate conversation and this is one of the only topics that seems exciting enough for him to overcome his speech disorder and social anxiety and plunge into having a conversation. Thus, ski trips seem expensive and frivolous when there are therapy bills to pay, but for our family, it gives us a chance to let our son shine in a way that he rarely does–socially.

Each morning as we left our condo to “hit the slopes,” he would gear himself up by saying, “Now I will gather my courage.” So, even though it was scary to him to try skiing, he conquered those fears and followed directions well. Also, he just adores Park City, Utah. When asked how he liked his ski trip, he said, “It’s like we are in a living heaven.” So, I think it’s pretty worth it to him as well.

Trip Tip: If you do go to the National Ability Center, make sure to book your child’s lesson far in advance, as far as you can, because I booked three weeks out and was on the wait list until we got there and almost did not get a lesson. The Center teaches skiing and other winter sports to children and adults with physical and developmental differences. Lessons are very reasonably priced, but it’s just the cost of getting to an expensive resort that will set you back financially. If you live in Utah, lucky you! And a final note, if you think your child will have problems with focus while skiing (pretty dangerous to lose your focus if you’re on skis!), ask the instructor to use the tethers and safety harness. Not every instructor likes to do this because they want to teach independence, but I wanted my son to ski safely more than I wanted him to ski independently. I’ll post a video next post.