Founder's Circle: News & Events
Guest Blog: Exercise for My Autistic Boy
The parents of children who struggle and face developmental challenges are a special group of people. They face difficulties that others can’t imagine. These parents are constantly in uncharted territory and usually alone. The knowledge and experience they gain gives them a perspective from which we all can learn. One of my heroes in this special group of parents is Jen Van Horn. I am so grateful for her wisdom and vulnerability. Jen’s extensive background in health, along with her research and personal journey, make her a treasure of information and insight. It is our honor to have Jen as our SEALKIDS guest blogger this month. I know you all will love her and that your lives will be enriched by all she shares. In fact, her post is just one more reason to participate in the SEALKIDS Squad Run, Walk and Roll!
Blessings to all and a special thank you to Jen.
Exercise for My Autistic Boy by Jen Van Horn
Harper, my beautiful blond 10-year-old son is towering at almost 5’3” and 108lbs of muscle. We jokingly call him Tarzan or Thor because of his naturally sculpted pecs and strong long legs. He has a gorgeous physique, but getting him outside to move that growing body is a full-time job. Generally, getting autistic children to exercise can be daunting. They often struggle with balance, depth perception, coordination, and low muscle tone which makes exercising even more of a challenge. In addition, iPads and electronics act as a security blanket for these special children.
I’ve had to get creative to get Harper outside daily. He’s not going to choose to go out and kick a ball, play on a jungle gym, or build a tree fort on his own merit. It takes effort and “out of the box” thinking to move that physique. So… then came the suitcases. He started to pretend play with ALL of the varieties of our suitcases, extra large to carry-ons that he found deep in our closets. He loved getting lost in the “airport” play taking them outside to load on the back of the truck getting ready for his travel adventure. At first attempts, he had trouble getting the heavy suitcases up to the bed of the truck but he figured it out as I watched from afar with a large proud grin. As a mom, it’s deeply heartwarming to witness this self sparked creative play where he uses his problem solving cognitive skills and muscular strength together.
I noticed sudden positive changes being in tropical Bali and rural Mississippi, both places with an abundance of nature to explore. We moved to Bali, Indonesia from Virginia Beach in early January for a healthy life shift and he was quickly and visibly moved with the vibrant colors of the local plants, flowers, and the many colorful critters — the fluorescent green lizards, striped frogs, purple birds, yellow snakes, and enormous black spiders. Nature called to him to move outside where he left behind his iPad more and more. There was much less resistance to go explore the rice paddies across the street, swim in the pool, or go “talk” to the cows grazing next door. Still the outings were short as his long-standing comfort was to get back to his iPad. It was always a battle, but much less in that nature’s richness. Everyday even with the sweaty Bali heat, I gently nudged him outside to move his body, expand his sensory system, and ground him to the nutrient rich earth. Something started to happen in the magic of Bali…he started to heal. His speech was clearer, he was calmer, even happier, and he wanted to GO OUTSIDE.
We decided to quickly flee Bali back to the comfort of U.S. soil during this coronavirus craziness. Church Hill Mississippi is where we landed for safe rural quarantine and even here we continue to pull Harper from the grasp of his electronic best friend. The horses, the acres of green pastures, the bass-filled lakes, and again the colorful snakes, birds, turtles, fish, and frogs all pull Harper outside, and encourage him to move his body, and to be self creative.
These simple steps helped me to stay the course on keeping my boy active and healthy. I’ve been consistently persistent with getting him outside everyday — even to swim in our pool in the rain, practice stretching on my yoga mat, or indoor wrestling with mama if the weather wasn’t cooperating for his outside exercise adventures.
In addition to making them feeling better, exercise helps autistic children detox by moving their lymphatic system. They often have detoxification issues and exercise is key! We as parents need to give them that push to keep their systems clean with some sort of sweating everyday to even where they’re a bit uncomfortable, for their own good, of course.
I hope you get outside and MOVE today!
Health & Happiness,