A Teenaged Boy, a Climbing Wall, and the Power of Accessibility

Alan is a student at Chicopee Comprehensive High School. He likes to read and enjoys playing video games. In April he turns 16. That’s a hard age by itself – and harder still when a teen is disabled.

“Alan is legally blind, has Cerebral Palsy and has mild autism,” his mother Sharon explains. “He has all these issues and his twin brother Geoffrey has none. It’s not an easy life for Alan and his combination of disabilities can make him reluctant to participate in social activities.”

Sharon is always looking for new ways to get Alan involved. Last summer she learned about Adaptive Martial Arts offered by CHD Disability Resources. “Alan is loving and communicative, but there have been few activities he likes involving socializing beyond his family group. I have to push it with him, but with CHD it’s easier because the programs are designed for people with disabilities, and so accessible.”

Since Alan’s vision is 20/400, he can only see things right up close. That makes it hard for him to feel comfortable in a big new place where he can’t see what’s going on around him. It’s also an issue of safety. Having trained staff and the right approach was important for Sharon. “Alan did well with martial arts,” she says. “He went several times and it was a good experience for him.”

When CHD Disability Resources introduced Adaptive Rock Climbing last fall, Sharon signed up Alan, as well as his brother. “Rock climbing interested Geoff and that encouraged Alan because the two could do something together. At first Alan didn’t want to participate. Anything new is daunting for him and he was reluctant. Eventually Jessica (that’s CHD’s Jessica Levine) got him into the climbing harness. I love the way Jessica worked with Alan. She talked with him about technical aspects of the equipment. He likes that sort of thing and she got him to try a little harder. He took a couple steps up that first time and got three or four feet off the ground. For Alan that was an accomplishment.”

At sessions two and three, Alan did more. “The second time he went half way up the rock wall and stopped because he got tired,” Sharon recalls. “The third time, after a few tries and a lot of encouragement, he went to the top. Someone who doesn’t know Alan may have wondered how happy he was up there, but his happiness was apparent to me later when he mentioned the experience to his aunt. The experience grows in his mind the more he thinks about it.”

Sharon observes that sometimes Alan’s attitude can be his biggest disability. “It’s natural that a person has so little confidence when he has so much to overcome. He needs lots of motivation. Jessica and Ryan (CHD’s Ryan Kincade) really cheer him on and keep him going when he would have given up.”

What would Sharon say to other parents of kids with disabilities about her experience with CHD Disability Resources? “Initially it may seem like your kid isn’t a good fit for the activities, but try it anyway. They make it so accessible. The confidence imparted is so good that even the smallest amount of participation is great. And with Alan, the more he participates the more he wants to participate.”

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