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.
“Now sometimes that’s all you can do is pull them out,” she said. “But we help each other with our children because we all understand what we are going through.”
Special consideration is made throughout the class to promote social skills, sensory integration, eye contact, coordination, and any other special modifications needed to meet the needs of each participant.
“I just meet them where they are each day,” Gadberry said. “Some days are better than others.”
Students are challenged to engage through the use of floor time, while still absorbing the benefits gymnastics offer to children on the Autism Spectrum in a fun and positive environment.
“Our ultimate goal is to teach basic gymnastics skills, while improving the child’s physical well-being, self-esteem, and overall ability to interact with others,” Strout said.
And it is working.
“I know my kids look forward to it,” Barnes said. “When they’re here, they feel free. We are so blessed to have this at no cost to us.”
The Flip Zone has held fundraisers at the gym and also held a golf outing.
“They have done the Flip for Autism here,” Barnes said. “The kids are able to do their routine and get applause. They love to perform but can sometimes have problems with loud sounds.”
Strout said she will continue to offer GymStars at the Flip Zone and would love to have even more participation from the community.
“We would love to have 100 kids in here,” she said. “But as it is, we only have six or seven each week. We have trouble finding the parents so that programs like mine can help them. The biggest problem is getting the word out.”
The Flip Zone’s GymStars program is open free of charge to autistic children ages 3 to 12 and their families from 9 to 9:45 a.m. each Saturday.
For more information, call the Flip Zone at 838-0667 or visit the website at www.theflipzone.com.
The Flip Zone is a 12,000 square foot facility and is also the home of the Shooting Stars Gym and Learn Preschool. It is at 880 Andico Road, Plainfield, just across from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
The facility offers each of the Olympic events for men’s and women’s gymnastics, a complete “jungle gym” preschool area, and an observation area with wireless internet available. They can also host special events such as birthday parties or ladies’ night out.