Gymnastics teacher and child with autism learn and grow together

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Sunday, June 12, 2022
Gymnastics teacher and child with autism learn and grow together
When Julian Chamberlain couldn't find an activity that matched his special needs, one local gymnastics coach bent over backwards for him.

BROOMALL, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- "It's really hard being a parent of a child on the spectrum because it's a lonely life," said Megan Chamberlain. "We can't do birthday parties. We can't go out to dinner with family. Everything has to be on a certain time on a certain routine."

Chamberlain and her husband, Chris, welcomed their only child into the world 12 years ago. Julian, a rambunctious boy with autism, gave their lives a new purpose.

But finding an activity for Julian to let out his energy seemed like an impossible task. Julian, who was 5 years old at the time, did not acclimate well to group activities.

Chamberlain knew he enjoyed gymnastics, but struck out when seeking one-on-one instruction from various gyms.

"I said, I'm going to make one more call. And it was to JK Gymnastics," said Chamberlain. "And Judy said, 'Let's see what we can do.'"

Seven years later, Julian has grown leaps and bounds under the tutelage of Coach Judy Kennedy. But Kennedy, a Widener University graduate who studied early childhood special education, is finding even more to learn from Julian.

"Having Julian actually allowed me to use my education and then be able to challenge myself each week to figure out how I can help him communicate without any verbal skills," said Kennedy.

Currently, Julian is the only child with special needs that Kennedy works with on Sunday mornings. But their one-on-one feedback loop is creating a blueprint for a future program.

"One day in the future, I hope to be able to provide this opportunity for other children like Julian," said Kennedy.

Kennedy said the keys to growing her competitive 900-athlete gym is expanding with more space and hiring more specialized instructors to meet the demand.

"But until then, I'm still learning and Julian is my teacher," she said.

Their teamwork is a resounding success, according to Julian's dad, Chris Chamberlain.

"Being special needs, he doesn't have any close friends," he said. "So, being able to see him interact with other people other than mom and dad, it's kind of exciting to see the love that he has for Coach Judy."

Perhaps the world might see Julian competing in the Special Olympics when he grows up.

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