Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Anatomy of Swinging

You start physical therapy at age 4 months of age. A therapist comes twice a week to your home to help you build your muscles to sit, crawl, walk, run and jump. You also see an OT therapist to build the muscles in your hands and work on your hand-eye coordination. At 8 months of age you see a vision therapist weekly to help you with your depth perception and your body-world coordination.

You spend hours every day working on therapy goals. Each toy you play with is therapy-based with physical goals in mind during the purchase. You spend weeks working on pulling up on the edge of the couch. You spend hours being tricked into bending over to build muscles needed for standing and walking without assistance. You spend weeks bending down to pick up rings and loop them over something taller than you.

Somewhere around 14 months of age your physical therapist brings over a walker. The silver, metal walker with 4 wheels that surrounds you in the back and you grip on the sides. It takes you a few weeks to figure out that it will not hurt you and in fact will delight you because you will find freedom in its glide.

You happily use the walker because you are mobile and you are standing so you can look your peers in your eyes. You put up with people staring at you using the walker but you don’t care. In fact, you kind of like the attention. You use the walker for months. Or for more than a year.

Your parents spend each day playing tricks on you so you stand unassisted. You reach up for something, realize you are standing and in a split second you go down to the safety of your bottom. Even one hand on something gives you stability, so for months you cruise holding onto whatever is hand height. Your OT still works on your hand gripping. Because that is vitally important in holding on when you swing.

You are 2 1/2 when you start to walk. You are three when you can walk outside the home (very nearly) safely. You are 4 when you can walk down a curb without hitting your face on the ground. You are 6 when you can jump with both feet in the air at the same time. This takes an incredible amount of skill. Years of therapy for you to learn to do it efficiently.

Maybe when you are 4 you start getting on swings. Your therapist and your parents tell you about 1,000 times over the course of the next 3-4 years to pump your legs, move them back and forth and that the back and forth movement have to happen at a particular time. So as they push you they yell out enthusiastically for you to move them back when you are on the upswing and out straight when you go the other way. But it takes years for you to understand what propels your body on a swing. But you still try.

Sometimes when the stars line up it works. We might start you out by giving you a push on the swing but then by chance your legs are in the right position and you move back and forth. You are so surprised when this happens and you scream, “I’m doing it! I’m swinging!” You don’t go very high, but that is okay because you really aren’t sure of the position and strength of the rest of your body so you don’t mind at all when you don’t swing as high as your friends or kids you see on the playground.

Then one day, nearly 8 years after you were born and 5  years after you start walking profiecently you are playing on a playground and then it happens. Your body is aligned correctly, the swing the right height, the weather isn’t too hot or too cold and you have enough energy to swing, swing, swing.

And that is the Anatomy of Swinging.

Julia blogs her family's story at Kidneys and Eyes and is co-founder of a social networking site, Support for Special Needs.com. She writes at Aiming Low and for various printed publications.


  1. What a victory! Such a beautiful little girl.

  2. Who knew your child swinging could fill your heart with such pride and emotion that you feel as if you are the one soaring? Beautiful post! We are all proud of your sweet child.

  3. I so get this. For mine, swinging finally started to "click" in first grade. He actually went to his kindergarten teacher to brag about it...bless her veteran teacher heart...she actually pushed him every day at recess the whole year he was in her class! <3

  4. Thanks everyone...I knew you all would understand the effort it takes to swing! :)

  5. I'm impressed! Beautiful writing, Julia!