Nothing is more important than making sure our kids stay engaged, safe, and healthy this summer. It’s critical we remember their health goes far beyond just physical. But for families who have children with autism or other social development challenges, many need to choose: athletics or therapy.
I’ve been there. As a parent, my beloved, late daughter lived with autism and I knew how important it was to support both her mental and physical health, but also recognized how difficult it was to find the right fit. She was asked to leave dance programs or was told “it’s not the right fit” for athletic programs, leaving her summer activity options limited.
In response, I took a leap of faith with my partner to make our dream of transforming the lives of kids through movement a reality. During the pandemic, we opened Team Rockstar Sports in a new, big space in Pawtucket offering unique therapy experiences for children utilizing movement-based groups for emotional and skills development. These services are led by a licensed independent clinical social worker and co-facilitated by an expert athlete and coach. This experience offers the power of therapy outside of an office setting.
I recently witnessed one of our 8-year-olds, who was initially unable to cope or communicate when meeting new peers, gain enough confidence to participate in one of our group movement classes, and meet new friends. I’ve seen 6-year-olds once crippled during school recess by the stress of losing or waiting for a turn gain the self-regulation skills to enjoy playing with peers with guided support and coaching in place. Children with limited speech capacity have been able to utilize support to now communicate with peers and engage in common games kids their age play. The importance of taking a break and relaxation strategies are taught in our group “relaxation” section. It’s an incredible thing to see.
Thanks to free tools on Facebook and Instagram, like posts and stories with a wide-reach, we were able to constantly communicate with our families as we geared up to launch our small group programs, both therapeutic and non-therapeutic. I love seeing families engage in-person and online with pride over their child’s milestones. Many students have moved from first experiencing some anxiety coming back after COVID, to a strong new group of friends sharing their summer adventures and not wanting the group to end.
Movement is transformational for mental health. For families who have children with autism or other social-emotional learning challenges, I encourage you to seek out programs that build self-awareness, social-awareness, responsible decision making, self-management skills, and relationship skills. While they may come easily to some children, for others, without the right support, it can lead to a life of social challenge and anxiety.
As we start our new group session, I am grateful to this community for embracing us and believing in us. May we all keep believing in the progress of all kids!
Molina is a licensed clinical social worker and co-founder of Team Rockstar Sports.