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How Simone Biles' Training Advice Applies to Parenting Kids With Special Needs


After winning individual gold in the women’s gymnastics all-around on Thursday, Simone Bile, in an interview, made a declaration: “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps,” she said. “I’m the first Simone Biles.”

Before going to teach spinning class last week, I was rushing around the house getting ready. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of the Good Morning America interview featuring Biles at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics. It struck me that this pint-sized, powerhouse had four training tips that packed a lot of punch. I grabbed my coffee, pen and pad to jot down a few bullet points.

Having a child with special needs presents many obstacles in life. My son 22-year-old son Nick, who has Down syndrome and is on the autism spectrum, has faced many with me. The low muscle tone (a trait of having Down syndrome) delayed him from reaching gross motor milestones until much later than most babies. He didn’t sit up until a year old, and he didn’t walk until he was 3 and a half years old. Nick had to work a lot harder to hit those targets, with years of physical therapy. We’ve also spent 22 years going to speech and occupational therapy to help feeding and communication, along with fine motor and sensory issues.

It has been quite a journey, which brings me back to those bullet points I scribbled down. In the GMA interview, Simone offered up some advice on her training regimen. They are four simple lessons, and my take on them apply to raising a child with special needs:

Enjoy the Ride

The journey isn’t always going to be easy. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and tears. And that’s to be expected. But find a way to embrace the journey. Have some fun as you go, and surround yourself with people who make you laugh.

Never Give Up

There will be days, weeks and months where you see no progress. Sometimes mistakes will be made. That’s when you pick yourself up and trust that you can do it no matter what.

Trust Your Squad

The fierce five huddled, cheered each other on, and believed in one another. When you have a child with special needs, you have to get a good squad together to help push them to succeed. This includes the IEP team along with outside therapists. Huddle in from time to time, and always keep the lines of communication open. Make sure all the goals and dreams for your child are in sync. Parents should have their own squad of friends and support groups you feel comfortable with. Your squad understands the insurmountable pressure faced when raising a child with special needs.

4. Treat Yourself

After a competition, Simone (whether she wins or not) enjoys pepperoni pizza. Parents of kids with special needs pend a lot more time and energy helping their child reach goals. It can be exhausting for everyone. Get a respite worker to watch your child once in awhile. Find the things you enjoy, and indulge. Go out to lunch with girlfriends, get a manicure, go workout, take a trip to Target (alone), enjoy a nap, have a glass of wine. Treat yourself, you deserve it.

That’s great advice from the 19-year-old Olympic champion. Life will always have it ups and downs, twists and turns. But if you can find a way to embrace the journey, you can hit the top of that podium and be the champion of your own life and your child’s.

Follow this journey on Down Syndrome With a Slice of Autism.