New gymnastics breaks same old routine for kids with special needs

A Big Blast offers a new type of gymnastics for kids with special needs.

A Big Blast is offering the northwest suburbs a new take on gymnastics classes for children with special needs.

“The gymnastics therapy is a combination of language, physical and occupational therapy,” says creator Rhonda Penzell. But one of those words isn’t allowed in her gyms. “I make all the moms promise me, you will not tell (the kids) that they’re going to therapy,” she says.

That stipulation is key to A Big Blast’s approach.

“They don’t want to work at something,” says Penzell about the children in her program. “But if they can find something that’s fun to do, and yet they’re getting all the benefits of working with muscles, it’s the perfect match.”

By combining therapy with the fun, foam-filled environment of a gym, kids are able to perfect skills without even realizing it. “I wanted these kids to have a place where they can have fun,” Penzell says.

Dana Feldstein, 8, is doing just that. “She loves it,” says her mom, Sari. “It’s a fun environment for them, it’s not a therapy session. It’s other kids around watching, playing, doing the same stuff in a natural setting, not a set-up setting.”

When Dana started, she wouldn’t go near the foam pit. Three months later she swings across it on a trapeze and dives right in. “Her ability to do it now is just unbelievably outstanding,” Sari Feldstein says. “She feels proud of herself.”

Dana is also able to help Duncan Campbell, 9, accomplish his goals. “Duncan has autism and one of his biggest deficits is social skills,” says Ann Campbell, Duncan’s mother. After sharing a time slot with Dana for three months, he now asks about her and interacts with her on the equipment. What sets the therapy “apart from most of his other therapies is that he has this opportunity to interact with another child, but there’s no pressure,” she says. “It kind of develops naturally.”

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