Monday, April 29, 2013

Really fun therapy for kids with special needs: It's called "pinball"

I haven't yet been to a therapy center that offers pinball therapy. Max's occupational therapists have yet to recommend it, though I feel certain they would endorse it. Insurance surely would not pay for it. But it's awesome, and a good reminder that therapy comes in all shapes and forms.

We'd road tripped to Asbury Park, NJ, our first time down at the shore since Sandy; the boardwalk reopened just last month. Wandering around we came upon the Silverball Museum Arcade, home to 150-plus pinball machines, some of which date back to the 1930s. We paid a flat fee to hang out for an hour.

We found Max a tall chair to sit on, and he played using both hands—always a big deal, since he tends to mostly want to use his left hand, the stronger one. Dave helped him out.

When Max was a tot, the thing that used to most stress me out—well, other than the what-will-he-be-like stress—was whether I was doing enough therapy for him. I never felt like I was, especially because each of his therapists (the occupational therapist, the physical therapist, the speech therapist, the vision therapist) gave me exercises I could do with him. 

There was no possible way I could have done all of them, unless I performed therapy on Max while he slept, but that didn't stop me from freaking out. I so badly wanted Max to walk, to babble, to be able to  grasp toys and spoons. I felt like not doing all of the exercises was impeding his progress. Then I'd despair that I just wanted to enjoy my child and I wouldn't do any exercises all weekend long. It was a vicious cycle.

Some things were a natural part of our days, which of course is the best kind of therapy there is. I'd bicycle Max's legs and massage them while he was on the changing table. I'd stretch out his arms when I dressed him or when I got him to do "How big is Max? SO big!" In the bath, I'd massage his face and jaw with a washcloth to loosen him up. We'd crash toy cars as I helped him grasp.

I always wanted therapy to be fun for Max, and the best therapists knew how to make it so. I learned to ask them to refrain from saying it was "time to work." I figured Max had a lifetime of therapy ahead of him, and I didn't want him to consider it work. But, yes, there were exercises that were just...exercises. And there were times when getting Max to play with toys was exhausting.

Max has come a long, long way. Therapy has most definitely helped, as has Max's determination and good old luck. There are still plenty of therapy to-dos (massaging his feet and arms, practicing walking downstairs and grasping pencils and articulating consonants), and that's the way life is. Max is more into playing games, which helps; one super-creative OT recently came up with"Word Twister. She taped words over the circles on the mat and when she says one, Max has to bend down to it and stay in that pose.

Max is also more open to experiences and places that flex his muscles and brain power. At the zoo, we name animals and mimic sounds they make, get a good sensory experience in the petting area, stretch his legs and core on a pony ride. On an errand at Target, Max can push around a shopping cart with both hands, place items in there, help figure out the right amount of money to give the cashier. Playing T-ball, going to a museum or the playground, holding an ice-cream cone, dance party at our house—check, check, check, check.  

Just his concentration alone at the pinball arcade was an amazing feat, this despite the pling-pling-plings of the many machines and kids running around.

 Bowling therapy was also excellent.

And Sabrina got to meet Elvis.

I still get flashes of I'm-not-doing-enough guilt; it comes with the job of being a special needs parent. There are still exercises that I dread, like getting Max to bite on a small rubber tube to loosen up his jaw before he eats so he can more easily chew. I do it as often as I can. Sometimes, I slack. Sometimes, Max refuses and I let it slide.

I do what I can.

But pinball therapy? Ah, there's a therapy we can all embrace.


  1. You now what else is really cool about this? Max isn't wearing his headphones! Okay yes, I admit I am really old, and I remember when there were lots of pinball parlors around. What I remember is that they're NOISY!! How great that Max was able to enjoy the experience with all the sounds that go with it! He's making progress in lots of areas! Way to go, Max!

    1. I agree Paula Max is making progress in a lot of areas.

    2. Tell me about it! We were wandering around when we found the pinball museum, and didn't have Max's headphones on us. He didn't care! I think he was so enchanted by all the blinking lights and, well, the FUN that he forgot all about his sensory issues!

  2. All we can do is our best and you most certainly are doing your best. I'm glad your putting fun into therapy Max deserves it.

  3. Pinball is fricking awesome! Interestingly enough, I've never been to this arcade in Asbury, despite the fact that I've lived in the state my entire life LOL! Gonna have to check it out now thanks to you guys.

    1. It is worth the trip! And then, head over to the charming next town, Ocean Grove, for some amazing ice-cream at Nagle's.

  4. Awww, someone beat me to the comment about the lack of ear muffs. WOW. I'm impressed. That's a lot of pinball machines!

  5. I just came upon your blog. I have a daughter who has cerebral palsy and IDD. I'm in tears reading through your posts. THANK YOU for doing this.

  6. I can completely relate to the "vicious cycle" you mention, of doing therapy all of the time and not enjoying your child to not doing therapy one day and feeling guilty. My son is 7 and has multiple disabilities and I have struggled with the same feelings. It's difficult to find balance, but a good friend reminded me that when I'm feeling like this, the most important thing to remember is that what our children need most is our love!

  7. I always enjoy reading your posts to get a parents perspective and this one is particularly interesting regarding home therapy programs. I was recently at an IEP meeting where a parent stated that they take the "day off" from home therapy activities on Sundays. I thought this was a great suggestion. Of course, activities that you have made part of your daily routine could still be completed if you wanted but an extra therapy activities perhaps could wait until Monday. This allows Max and you to get a complete day off each week. Not only from a physical perspective but from a mental perspective as a mother. Just enjoy the day together!


Thanks for sharing!

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