PLAINFIELD – The Flip Zone in Plainfield has been opening its gym to area autistic children and their families since 2009. The class is called GymStars.
The facility’s owner/operator, Stephanie Strout, wanted to do something for the community and found other gyms across the country helping autistic children.
“USA Gymnastics started clubs like this across the country,” Strout said. “Larry Nassar, the Gymnastics Doctor, was holding autism program fundraisers. He was trying to raise money and bring education to gyms across the country about working with children with special needs.”
Strout didn’t have any special training but knew she could open her gym to these families.
Nassar’s daughter was diagnosed with autism and he wanted to educate families on how gymnastics can help children on the spectrum.
“One of my instructors, Carol Gadberry, has been their instructor for two years now and she absolutely loves it,” Strout said. “She just comes in for this class.”
Gadberry said the GymStars class is made up of children who can be found all over the spectrum.
“Some of them are non-verbal and others speak very well,” she said.
Having the open space where they can run and play safely is very helpful to parents.
“You can only jump on the couch for so long,” Gadberry said. “Here, they have trampolines.”
They also get help learning balance and other movements that can make them uncomfortable at home. The class also helps with listening and social skills.
Plainfield’s Sonja Barnes has been bringing her 12-year-old twin daughters, Abigail and Alison, to the class almost since its inception in 2009.
“This is also a place where the families can come and talk,” Barnes said. “We talk about everything from special diets to what their triggers are.”
She said parents are initially sometimes embarrassed when their child starts to act up and just want to pull the child out of the program.