By Gita Brown
Raising a child is one of the most challenging jobs in the world, but when your child has special needs the job gets more complicated. James is a four-year-old with curly blond hair and a devastatingly adorable smile. He idolizes his older cousin, delights in swimming, and has a surprising affinity for old school Frank Sinatra. James also has cerebral palsy; and while his reading and math comprehension tests at age level, he is dependent on the adults in his life for all daily living activities. He is still learning how to walk and talk, eats through a combination of feeding tube and mouth, and has a constant rotation of therapy, doctor’s visits and specialized schooling.
His mom, Annie, describes herself as, “more than mom; I’m his medical advocate, therapy and doctor scheduler, counselor, medical assistant for his feeding tube and medications, special needs advocate.” But Annie, herself a teacher, was determined to “find ways to help him grow. I knew that he’d never be able to play team soccer, but I was determined to find him an extracurricular activity. That’s when our Fragile Footprints nurse told us about Yoga for the Special Child.” Fragile Footprints Pediatric Palliative Care, part of Cranberry Hospice, provides service to medically fragile children and their families. Their generous financial support gives James weekly yoga classes.
I first met Annie and James on a raw October afternoon. As rain pelted the windows, Annie settled a few feet away so James could still see her as we began our first yoga class. Besides falling in love with his infectious giggle, I quickly saw that James loves learning. We start each yoga class with a chant, and Annie said, “I was blown away at how quickly he started to chant ‘Om’ with you. For a child that doesn’t speak yet, this is huge.” I moved onto teaching James the building blocks of yoga positions. Because of his cerebral palsy, it takes more time and steps to build into yoga positions, but with patience James is learning to improve his mind and body connection, build strength and endurance. Annie says, “Yoga has helped strengthen him to hold his body upright; which means that auditory and visually he has much more confidence and can participate in life. I’ve noticed this past year we went to events and instead of crying due to overwhelm and fatigue, he smiled and held his head up. Yoga gives him comfort and confidence in his body, so that he can step outwards from that comfort and into the world.”
Last August, James put his skills on display when Sonia Sumar, founder of Yoga for the Special Child®, came to visit South Shore Conservatory. James attended the Yoga for the Special Child Basic Training Program as a demonstration student. With mom and me looking on, Sonia and James demonstrated a full yoga class to a packed house of program attendees. They fell in love with James’ smile, and were thrilled to observe the practice they had studied come to life.
The training is open to everyone, from pure beginners to yoga teachers, nurses, occupational therapists, parents, caregivers, or anyone interested in teaching yoga to kids with special needs. This August 19-24, Sonia Sumar and I are leading a Yoga for the Special Child Basic 1 Program at South Shore Conservatory’s Duxbury campus. Of course, James and his mom will be there to share their practice and demonstrate the power of yoga to change lives, one breath at a time. We’d love to have you join us.
For more information contact Gita Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 781-749-7565, x49.