By Annie Ryan
On Saturday mornings, South Shore Conservatory (SSC) holds Yoga for the Special Child®. This Creative Arts Therapy class is provided for children like my son, James Ryan.
James is a five-year-old who loves listening to Frank Sinatra Radio on Sundays, being outside, his cousins, and school. He is a tall and very slender boy who has various medical diagnoses. He lives his life with Cerebral Palsy, a gastrointestinal tube (Gtube) for nutritional intake, and Cortical Vision Impairment. He also has a variety of medical complications. These diagnoses started directly at birth when James had an Inventricular Hemorrhage, causing a major blood clot in his brain. He is a quadriplegic and does not walk or sit up on his own. He has a wheelchair, gait trainer walker, hospital bed, body brace, eye patch, foot braces, and hand braces. Upon meeting James and seeing his obvious physical disabilities, you will then see his contagious smile, and notice how happy he is with life. This happiness grows with the time spent in SSC’s Yoga for the Special Child® (YSC).
We were introduced to yoga teacher Gita Brown and her Yoga for the Special Child® program during a summer camp with the Fragile Footprints program of which James is a member. This program, available through Cranberry Hospice, provides family support, child life care, community resources, and more. James took part in Gita’s session during this camp and enjoyed it. Noticing his interest during the session, Gita informed us that accessible yoga classes are available through South Shore Conservatory. Seeing James so happy with and interest in yoga, we signed him up right away. He had an initial meeting with Gita, and let us know, through his excited body language, that he wanted to continue with yoga. Prior to meeting Gita, James had only experienced early intervention therapies. He has been enrolled in YSC for over a year now, and it’s an activity James looks forward to every Saturday.
When we first met with Gita and added this extracurricular activity to his typical therapies, our goal was for James to gain physical strength, but we’ve noticed so many more benefits. For example, where it was not possible before, he can now blow his nose; and when upset or ill, he now can take better breaths to give himself appropriate oxygen and calmness to heal. James has gained strength in motor ability. With Cerebral Palsy his muscles are always at work, even when sleeping. Practicing yoga gives his body the perfect stretch to his muscles in a relaxing environment. He has gained the ability to lift and hold his head up better, strength to hold himself in a supported sitting position, and is beginning to lift his legs and hold his head up more while doing tummy time on the floor. Practicing yoga has also helped his internal organs. James has small kidneys and a cyst on one of them, constipation complications, acid reflex, complications eating by mouth, and more. Yoga helps give a boost to his blood flow, teaching his body’s organs to work appropriately, and teaching his brain to send appropriate messages to his body. While yoga has done amazing things for James in these last two years, I look forward to seeing even more surprising benefits in his yoga future.
At SSC’s Yoga for the Special Child® training last summer, James was used as a ‘model’ student. Sitting and watching him, I was blown away at the positions he can get into. I wouldn’t have thought a child with his disability could do such a thing. YSC has been wonderful for James. He has also met children with special needs who see Gita before and after his own session. If you have a child with any type of special needs, or know a child with special needs, have them meet Gita. Yoga provides an experience of strength, healing, relaxation, fun, and self-awareness. James will forever have a love for Gita and yoga. As a parent, I will forever be thankful to South Shore Conservatory for providing this amazing yoga class for my son.
Learn more about SSC’s Yoga for the Special Child at https://sscmusic.org/accessible-yoga/.