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Can My Daughter Focus While Doing Gymnastics?

When my daughter Natalie announced that she wanted to take gymnastics lessons, I groaned. Been there, done that, and it wasn’t fun — for anyone involved. But recently her determination has helped her succeed.

When my daughter Natalie tried gymnastics a few years ago, her ADHD made her completely unable to pay attention. The sight of the uneven bars had the power to draw her away from warm-up stretches. She’d climb on piles of mats rather than wait in line for her turn on the balance beam. Her high energy made it exhausting for me to just get her into the gym. The time her coaches spent corralling her took attention away from her classmates. And Natalie couldn’t have enjoyed being constantly corrected, repeatedly redirected.

In the two or three years since we gave up the gymnastics fight, she’s surprised me by doing a great job in tae kwon do, T-ball, and basketball. Maybe she deserves another chance to try gymnastics. Maybe she’ll do better the second time around.

Natalie, adopted from Russia, looks like the stereotypical Russian gymnast. Petite and perky, the only thing between her and a lifetime of skinny is her remarkable musculature. Nowadays, she even has the blond ponytail to complete the gymnast look. I can’t count how many times someone new has met her, and remarked, “She looks like a little gymnast! Is she in gymnastics?” How to explain that, no, the combination of her ADHD and sensory processing disorder symptoms, combined with the distracting noisy, movement-everywhere-you-look features of the gym, have kept her from what is, arguably, her birthright. And, quite possibly, the best darn occupational therapy (OT) — in a completely natural setting — that a parent could hope for! The moves of gymnastics — flipping, spinning, having her head upside down during backbends, cartwheels — help develop core strength and balance, incorporating equipment and movements very similar to that used in OT.

With her recent successes in other sports to recommend her, I’m willing to try gymnastics again. I’ll warn Nat’s coaches about her attention and sensory challenges. I’ll offer to pay extra, or send along a respite worker/helper, if she demands too much of the coaches’ time. Then I’ll cross my fingers, hold my breath, and hope that, with her trademark determination, despite the odds against her, she’ll surprise me once again.