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Reflections from the Inclusive Gymnasium

How Play Invites Kids With Disabilities To Be Themselves

I found this in my notes today, it reminds me and grounds me in my purpose. “In play” we invite children to be themselves, so many times I did not understand what drew families to my classes…it was play, an open invitation to be ourselves. These are the spaces we create when we make space for everyone to play: She hears her mom faintly say that this morning is “gym”, and her heart drops a little. She loves the kids and friends from school, and playing with her brothers…but the walk to the big doors, how those tiles feel under her feet burn, and then the snap of the door handle, the blast of air across her body…and everything in the space is amplified 100 times as it bounces off the walls, it shakes her body…she can’t hear the music or the teacher over the buzzing of the lights and the hum of so many little voices. Someone is asking her to say good morning, but it is so hard to process over all of the other “noise”. She has been here before…for many years, she has seen a thousand stares, and heard the voices. She knows the “expectations” of “normal”…and still she cannot avoid the overwhelming sensations of sight and sound that lead her to move and vocalize for comfort and escape. Mom helps her get to the circle that is marked in bright yellow on the floor…she knows what happens now…we stretch in our bubble…still no music…breathe….the instructor smiles and greets the friends, she tries to make her body still for a second to focus, and then she flaps to center her focus and calm her body. Here come the headphones, that squeeze out some of the noise, and rub her hair, and then the music, as the friends start to move together to the “music” she clings to mom who is bouncing and helping her to be here with caregiver and dad and brothers. We move in a circle we bounce, and jump and swim…and it lasts for so long…and then our bodies are quiet for a moment and she collects herself, lets go of mom and runs across the gym to the mats that make her whole body feel good…she wishes she could just roll and be rolled while the music vibrates off the walls. Then the instructor tells her that she can dance her own way on the mat, how her body feels good, and to do what makes her body feel good in dance….everybody moves in their own way…no stares, no judgement, no “only one way”, no “follow or don’t” come….this is a safe place…where I she can find what moves her… Her favorite part is under the “rainbow”, the teacher squeezes her tight and they rock together under those beautiful colors in waves. I am safe and loved.

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