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Gymnastics & Special Education - A perfect match.

Posted on 10/14/2019

By Karissa Johnson, Founder/owner Spectra Gymnastics

With the educational system ever-changing, adaptive gymnastics programs are ideal to help support social & educational goals for neurodiverse learners. Students ranging from early childhood intervention programs through adulthood can enjoy the many benefits of gymnastics activities and classes. In this article, we will highlight various ways in which adaptive gymnastics programs can help support athletes both in and out of the gym!

Early childhood: ages 2 - 6  

Research supports the effectiveness of interventions in the early years of childhood development. Children in this age range greatly benefit from exposure to physical activity to improve cognition, motor development, social interactions, and language development. Most children in this age range are in a variety of therapies, such as Occupational Therapy. Opportunities to practice these skills in a fun, supportive environment like the gym helps keep learning fun and engaging!

Early Elementary: ages 6 – 10

Gymnastics provides a unique opportunity for social skill development in addition to the benefits of physical activity. Small class sizes can provide a positive social experience without overwhelming the children. Additionally, students gain executive functioning skills by learning how to plan and follow organized routines. Executive functioning development is critical for regulating emotions, improving problem-solving skills, time management, planning, prioritizing, organizing and regulating emotions. 

Middle School ages: 11 – 14

This transitional time for middle schoolers often provokes feelings of insecurity or self-doubt. In addition to not fully understanding the physiological changes their bodies are going through, many of these tweens are at risk of bullying at school. Gymnastics provides a healthy physical outlet unique to this age group. By teaching students they can achieve personal goals, their overall self-confidence is built. This helps to shape repetitive negative thinking patterns into a positive self-image.

High School- ages: 14 – 21

Most students in an all-abilities program will not progress to competitive sports programs. Since gymnastics is an individual sport, athletes are able to continue enjoying activities in a recreational fashion. When these students are paired in small groups, the social connections they develop can be deeply meaningful. Having gymnastics to feed this outlet reduces a sense of isolation that may occur in other areas of daily living experiences. 

Transition to Adulthood: ages 21+

In America, students who qualify for public special education services are offered free education until the age of 21. Once high school is completed, families find that transitional resources are limited. Parents, caregivers, caseworkers and therapists are desperate to access community-based activities for these young adults. Gymnastics is a perfect resource to meet these needs! You may also consider providing volunteer opportunities to help a student learn fundamental vocational skills.  

Motor Development

Improving motor development is a sought-after benefit for many families raising children with special needs. Gymnastics naturally supports gross and fine motor development through the unique equipment and skill acquisition the sport offers. Tumbl Trak’s special needs line has carefully developed unique equipment to support motor development in fun, engaging ways! 

Fine Motor development improves:

  • Handgrip of crayons, markers & pencils

  • Hand grip of eating utensils

  • Handwriting skills

  • Independent daily living skills: getting dressed, brushing teeth or independently eating

Gross Motor development improves:

  • Balance, strength & coordination

  • Ability to focus

  • Self Confidence

  • Body & Spatial awareness


Sensory Integration

The gym is an incredible sensory experience for students who crave sensory input! When the body’s sensory needs are met, the learner is better equipped to focus, attend and remain emotionally regulated. Sensory integration can also improve the quality of sleep, which leads to improved memory, critical thinking, attention and regulation. Let’s discuss a few of the unique sensory benefits gymnastics equipment provides:

  • Trampolines, hot blocks and air traks provide unique proprioceptive input into the body.

  • Foam pits promote gross motor development, improves spatial awareness and provides proprioceptive input. Foam pits can also be a source of relaxation when a student becomes over-stimulated.

  • Ball pits provide enjoyable visual and tactile stimulation for all young learners!  The enclosed space of a ball pit also creates a safe space for students to decompress as needed.

  • Beams, bars, rings and therapeutic swings promote vestibular development into the sensory experience. Vestibular development is vital for improving spatial awareness and increasing confidence in one’s body.  



Tumbl Trak special needs line:  Tumbl Trak invested valuable time working with respected occupational therapists to develop their new line of unique, adaptive equipment specific to sensory integration. Some of my favorites are: 


  • Teddy Bear mats

  • Fitness Wheel

  • Boundex

  • Hot Blocks & Hot Spots

  • Bubble Bowl

  • Air Barrels