We plan to share how Nate was diagnosed, what his therapy’s like, and what we’ve learned about autism so far but, in reality, that’s all pretty heavy stuff. In the short few weeks since Nate’s diagnosis, we’ve been buoyed by the community that’s rallied around us and all of the amazing opportunities that Nate has as a kid who happens to have autism—and some of it is really, really fun!
One of the really cool activities is the Sensory Bounce at BounceU. Bounce U is a national chain of magical warehouses filled with inflatable structures. (Think giant bouncy houses like you find at the fair. Only tons of them. In every possible configuration.) Our local BounceUs have Sensory Bounces, a special hour set aside for children and adults with Sensory Integration Dysfunction, Autism, and other disabilities with a Sensory component. Depending on their needs, there’s a staff to kid ratio of 1:1 or 1:3 and it’s limited to six special-needs kids per session. I found out about this in a local calendar of kids’ activities and made a reservation for us this past weekend. We had heard from one of Nate’s therapists that the experience was “amazing” but we still were skeptical. We weren’t quite sure what to expect and we were worried that Nate might be a bit to wee for the giant inflatable jumpy houses.
We got to BounceU and checked in, signing the obligatory “we won’t sue you if your child dies in your bouncy house” paperwork. We paid for our session ($17), which included a BounceU staff member dedicated just to Nate for the entire hour. Our staff member was Keishaunda. Usually, parents stay in the waiting room while their child goes for an hour of supervised fun in BounceU. Because it was Nate’s first time there and he’s shy around new friends, and because we secretly wanted to jump in the houses more than Nate did, we accompanied Nate in BounceU.
When we got inside, our hearts swelled. This. Was. Amazing. There were slides that stretched to the ceiling. There were two obstacle course bouncy houses—one for toddlers and one for bigger kids—in addition to the traditional jumpy house where you could bounce to your heart’s content. There were t-ball, basketball, and football inflatable activities. There were four giant slides—two with inflatable steps and one with a “rock” climbing wall. The fourth slide required the kids to climb onto a trampoline and go vertically through three layers of elastic band webs. Once at the top, you could go right down the big ol’ slide.
We decided to start small for Nate. We didn’t want to overwhelm him so we put him in the toddler jumpy house. (We don’t have pictures of this because we were in there bouncing along.) The toddler house had little obstacles, like inflatable poles, and a mini-slide. Nate thought this was okay…but just okay. We could tell our little adventurer wanted more.
So Chad took him to the giant slide. When we got in the room, I was nervous about those slides for Nate. They were big. Really big. Keishaunda cautioned most kids don’t like them, especially on their first visit. It usually takes the sensory tots a while to warm up to the giant slides. But we decided to try it just in case Nate liked them. We started out on the double slides. Presumably, there are two of them so kids can race each other down the slope. To get to the top, one needs to climb an inflatable ladder. There’s a little bungee cord rope to help you up, but it’s not much aid as our twenty-five pound tot is clamoring for you to climb faster. Once at the top, there’s only one way down: the giant, super-fast, slippery slope. On the first slide, Nate and Chad went down together.
It was love at first slide.
Since he didn’t do the work himself, Nate didn’t comprehend how he hard it was to get to the top of the slide. He tried climbing up the slide for a while.
(It didn’t work.)
We decided to try the next slide. It was one giant slope.
He wanted to do this over and over and over again. A few staff members congregated around Nate. They were so impressed at how happy he was—no tears like some other kids. Not my boy! He wanted MORE! Tuckered out from carrying him up the “stairs,” Chad explained to Nate that there were many more things to do and moved on to other parts of BounceU.
One thing Nate really liked was the T-Ball Station. Nate didn’t play T-Ball. He was just mesmerized by the amazing ball that hovered on a giant puff of air.
He finally grabbed the ball and it went everywhere with us for the rest of our visit.
There were four other kids at the Sensory Bounce. Through my uneducated assessment, three of them were on the autistic spectrum. The fourth was a sweet four-year-old boy. He was having an amazing time roughhousing with his dad, running and jumping all around. The dad introduced himself to us because he could tell it was our first time at BounceU. He recognized the wide-eyed, holy-crap-I-didn’t-know-something-like-this-existed look in our eyes and wanted to reassure us that this was as good of an experience as we thought. He was also concerned, I think, because one of the autistic children playing with us that day had Tourette’s. She was a beautiful girl about eight or nine years old that had just learned the “f” word and shouted it, consistently and really loudly, for the entire hour of play. She was assigned to two staff members and we smiled sweetly at the girl, knowing that it was something she needed to do and it didn’t bother us in the least. The dad, however, was concerned that we might be turned off by the “f” word chorus so he came over to say hi. He mentioned that he’s been coming to BounceU for years and it’s the first time he’s heard any cursing here. I explained that my son is nonverbal so if he decided to pick up the “f” word and started to clearly shout it, we’d throw him a parade because it meant he was talking!
The dad explained that his son was initially diagnosed as autistic at age two but his diagnosis has been revised to Sensory Integration Disorder, meaning his body and mind doesn’t process all of the stimuli that come at us every day. As a result, he needs an outlet for all of that built up energy and BounceU is just the answer. When his son was two, he had low muscle tone. He couldn’t lift his head or hold his chest up. He was also nonverbal. Now, this kid was running around like an everyday four-year-old kid. His family chalks it all up to therapy. Right now, the little guy is in therapy three times a day, including a specialist in the Bronx. Their family met another child with the same diagnosis who didn’t get therapy. Without the daily therapy, the other child has improved very little. It made our hearts sing to know we were on the right track with Nate and to see this little guy who went from zero to 100 in two years’ time.
When we left our session, we were greeted by a room full of thirty rambunctious kids watching a safety video before they were allowed to participate in BounceU’s “Open Bounce,” a free play of sorts. The kids were of all ages but mostly bigger kids in grade school. The bouncing sensation does something magical for kids on the autistic spectrum and we’re grateful that BounceU has special small sessions just for kids like mine so that they’re not overwhelmed by the noise and crowds that those kids will inevitably make. The experience also made Chad want to buy a bouncy house for our backyard. (To which I replied, “Who’s going to put it up and take it down every day?”) I think there will be more BounceU visits in our future very, very soon.
P.S. All you Autism Army members, feel free to leave us comments to these blog entries. We read and love each and every one!