The Best Trick: Scootering as Therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorders

The Best Trick: Scootering as Therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorders

Our unique little kid, Paxton. In case you were wondering, he's one on the right. ;)

The following article was written by my wife, Dena Carlile, who is the mother of my scooter kid, Paxton Swygard. This has been a challenging article to write as we weren't sure if being open/honest about Paxton's diagnosis was a good idea. But we realized that if we can help even one person (parent or child), it's worth it. I'm proud to feature Dena as a guest writer here on ScooterDad and I'm thankful for her contribution to the site and to all the parents out there who can benefit from her thoughts.

I also hope that this article gives a new perspective to some people who may not realize how many kids at the skate park and elsewhere are impacted by Autism spectrum disorders. I know people often misunderstand Paxton and other kids like him. I hope that every reader of this article can learn to be more open to every unique person and his/her challenges in life.

Kenny Carlile - ScooterDad


At three weeks old, I knew my son was different. It took years before we had an official diagnosis, but I knew very early on that he was not like other babies. Like most people, I didn't know a lot about Asperger's syndrome or any of the Autism spectrum disorders but I made it my mission to learn everything I could. As it turns out, my son taught me the most important thing I needed to know.

Paxton has always been full of energy. From the time he could move, he was always running, jumping, bouncing, crashing, and spinning. He also loved to swing. As an infant, the baby swing was one of the only things that soothed him. And as he got older, swinging continued to be one of his favorite activities. It would be a few years before we learned that all his activities had meaning and Paxton was doing them for a reason. His therapists called it sensory seeking. This was one of the symptoms that helped us diagnose his Autism spectrum disorder. It's also one of the most important tools we use to manage his daily life.

Kids on the Autism spectrum often have problems processing sensory input. Their brain gets overwhelmed with messages from a variety of senses and they can't interpret the signals correctly. Sensory processing is a core skill that most of us take for granted. However, when that skill is missing or impaired, it can cause problems in a variety of areas including social interaction, motor skill development, focus, and attention.

To help Paxton, we took him to an occupational therapist who taught us more about sensory processing. She helped us understand how different activities can impact energy levels and the ability to calm and regulate emotions. To no one's surprise, we found that swinging was very important for Paxton. It provided something called vestibular input, which is the feeling of movement. In many cases, the linear movement from swinging calms the nervous system and improves attention and focus.

In addition to vestibular input, we found that proprioceptive input helped calm Paxton as well. Proprioceptive input comes from muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons. You can get this type of input by pushing things, pulling things, lifting, and engaging in heavy work activities.

With a regular, consistent amount of vestibular and proprioceptive input, we noticed huge changes in Paxton. In a short amount of time, he was able to:

  • Make eye contact with people
  • Cope with emotions better
  • Focus on tasks longer
  • Calm himself down

For two years, our lives revolved around therapy for Paxton. Our house became an indoor playground to provide him with the appropriate amount of sensory input he needed to function on a more even level. Then, when Paxton turned five, something amazing happened. He got his first scooter. It was a Razor A1 model. I don't even remember where or how he got it, but it didn't take long to see that he was hooked.

At first, riding in our culdesac provided all the benefits he needed. The vestibular motion of riding a scooter did wonders for his brain. But as he began to learn tricks, the benefits of scootering doubled. The muscle strength involved in pushing, lifting, and twisting a scooter became a great way for him to get proprioceptive input as well. Each time he landed a trick, the compression on his joints and muscles helped calm his nerves and organize his thoughts. Without trying, Paxton had discovered the perfect therapy for himself.  

To this day, scootering is the best form of therapy we have found for Paxton. When he is scootering on a regular basis, he is happier, more focused, and better equipped to regulate his emotions. Are things perfect? No. Paxton will always struggle with attention problems and social relationships. But as a mom, I am so thankful he found something he loves that also provides huge benefits to his emotional well-being -– clearly the best trick he'll ever learn. Now if I could only find an effective therapy for all the haters in this sport! ;-)

References

  • "The Out-Of-Sync Child"; Carol Stock Kranowitz; 2006
  • "Building Bridges through Sensory Integration"; Ellen Yack, Paula Aquilla and Shirley Sutton; 2004
  • "Sensory Integration and the Child"; A. Jean Ayres; 2005
  • "How Does Your Engine Run?"; Mary Sue Williams and Sherry Shellenberger; 1994

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Comments

Thanks for sharing your families story guys, really hope it can help others.

We hope so too, Munk. Thanks!!! :)

By Kenny

I just found this site while researching what makes a 'pro scooter' different than a basic razor. My son is 10 and does not have an official diagnosis but it is pretty obvious that he meets most of the criteria for a diagnosis of Aspergers. I was brought to tears when I clicked on the home link on your site and saw this article at the top of the page. Scootering has become my son's latest 'obsession' and although he is not too coordinated or daring, and is too self-conscious to go to a skate park, I want to encourage him because he loves it. Thank you for sharing this information! (I know it can be a difficult decision to share a child's diagnosis for many reasons.) It helps me understand that it might be helping him on levels I couldn't see (ie the sensory/proprioceptive/vestibular input), and helps me feel more settled about choosing to invest what I can in his love for scootering, when others in our family think he can just use whatever crappy scooter since he's not good at it....I know this comment is really long, you don't have to post it but I just was compelled to reach out with gratitude-

By B Love (not verified)

Thank you sooo much for taking the time to respond. I am thrilled this article helped you!!! Yes, definitely continue to encourage your son. It will help him in so many ways! I am not joking when I say we went through more than 8 Razors before we found the perfect pro level scooter (Hooray for Phoenix!!). Not only did it give him more confidence, but it also improved his skills. There are a lot of great entry-level pro scooters on the market now. It will be one of the best investments you make! Good luck and thanks again for your response. It made my day! :-)

By Dcarlile (not verified)

This is a great article Dena.

I work with and have friends with Autism. I really have a hard time seeing it as a "disorder." Most of the time, they have more "order" in their lives than I can possibly muster. They tend to tear life down to the bare bones - what is and what isn't. It's all so perfectly contrasted as "right" and "wrong" and there's no room for anything in between. Yes, they get frustrated, but it's almost always because "the rest" of us fail to understand, or play by the rules.

One of my friends with Autism surfs religiously. He's fantastic at it and puts me to shame the way he'll barrel into a wave whether it looks safe or not. I have another friend whose son participates in the A.skate foundation. Of course, I've known about Paxton through getting to know Kenny and have actually suggested the sport to my friends who are honored parents of Autistic kids.

Hate will exist whether we or our children want or need it. The fantastic thing about Action Sports is that they don't depend on a team or even mentors. These are Self-Actualizing Activities, like painting and music. Whether we enjoy them in front of a crowd or in a cul-de-sac, the result is the same: joy of experience.

By JT (not verified)

My heart skipped a beat when I saw a link ref autism and scootering as therapy. My 6 year old is a high functioning autistic child and it breaks my heart that other children don't play with him like other children his age. He is not able to balance yet so for christmas we gave him a Micro Kickboard scooter. These scooters have 3 wheels rather than the traditional 2 wheel scooters. This kickboard was a revelation for our son. He scoots around now just like all the other kids now and it really has made a huge positive difference in his life. He is now even going to skate parks with his older brother and everyone there accepts him as an equal. I am amazed that we not alone in discovering that a scooter can be a tremendous therapy for autistic children. THANK YOU for your letter as it gives me more hope for my son.

By IZ (not verified)

Thanks for your comments. I'm glad to hear that you've experienced the same help from scootering. :)

By Kenny

Thank you for this brave and honest article. My son was diagnosed at 2 with Sensory Processing Disorder and we've found the OT has helped with his basic functioning as well as so many other lagging skills. He's not yet three but I got him a three wheel scooter after reading this article and will be working towards a two wheel one as he ages and gains confidence as it has had so many positive benefits for Paxton and I hope it will for my son as well. Thank you!

By SPD Mom (not verified)

Great article! I have a seven year old with autism who loves coming to the skatepark with my friends and I to ride his scoot while we skate. Found this site while looking for an old guy scooter option so I can ride with him. Agree on the fact that it calms him immensely and has really helped out on the social end of things.

By Dan Corapi (not verified)

Thanks for your comment! It's great to hear that scootering is helping kids all over. :)

By Kenny

I was really interested to read this article - thank you for being so transparent with your experience. My 5 year old son is a high functioning autistic child, he's not ready for a bike yet but after reading your article I can definitely picture him riding a scooter. It seems like an ideal activity for him.

By Jamie Graham (not verified)

I'm very happy to hear that you found this article helpful. We wish you the best of luck with your family's new scooter adventure! :)

By Kenny

OMG. I came to this site to see if certain scooter brands' parts were compatible. Looking around, I see this link about scootering and autism. My son is 11, diagnosed at 5 with Aspergers. We've been through all kinds of therapies, but my son LOVES his scooters. He begs for lessons so that he can learn tricks. Sadly, we've been so busy with other activities, those lessons have gone to the back burner. But believe you me, we are signing up for those lessons this week!

Thank you so much for sharing your personal story - I understand the struggle in deciding to do so, but you have opened my eyes. THANK YOU!!!!

By chris (not verified)

Thank you for your message, Chris. I'm so glad to hear that the article was helpful and encouraging to you and your son. Good luck with the lessons! I'm sure you won't regret the decision to help pursue scootering in his life. :)

By Kenny

It was terrific to read your post. I have a 9-year-old son recently diagnosed with Aspergers who is obsessed with scootering. While we're not across all the reasons as you have outlined in this article, we have definitely found it to be his happy place and we make sure to fit scootering time in at least once a week - especially after school!!! We are planning to discuss Aspergers with our son for the first time this week and I came upon your article while researching Aspie role models in order to highlight the many gifts and talents this group of people bring to our world. I had thought an Aspie pro-scooterer would be the jackpot! All the best, and thanks for your post.

By Tanya (not verified)