Life opens up for all of us at different times and in different ways. Sport is something unique that pushes us, asking us to give it a shot, to improve and most of all, to have fun. Sport also provides social structures and opportunities to bond. In a positive and inclusive sporting environment, people thrive. This is exactly what happened for Jayda Yang when she took up skating.
Jayda started skating at five years old and seven years later, she still loves going to the rink. She thrives off the relationships she has built with her coaches, especially Coach Lisa, and while group activities have been difficult for her in the past, she absolutely loves being involved in programs at not just one but two skating schools in her area. In fact, Jayda loves skating so much that her mother registers her for a double session in the winter.
Jayda is also autistic and has limited verbal communication. For special needs individuals, group and social activities can often be challenging, anxiety provoking and stressful, but just as essential as they are for neurotypical people. Individuals all need a place where they belong and can develop relationships and skating has done just that for Jayda.
The rink has become a place where she is engaged, feels safe, and looks forward to being. Her clubs have adapted to keep her interested and enjoying the experience. Jayda is a very visual learner and sometimes needs things like timers and choices to help her continue to succeed. Her bond with her coaches, particularly Coach Lisa, gives her the motivation to keep going session after session.
Jayda’s autism diagnosis brings with it certain struggles. Some days it can take almost half an hour for Jayda to summon the motivation to get out of bed, but on days when she knows she has skating, she is excited to get up and get going. These are some of the small but hugely impactful differences Jayda’s mother has noticed as a result of skating.
Following her skating sessions, Jayda is “often happier, calmer and more open.” These become teachable moments where they get to communicate more. Jayda has limited verbal capacity and communicates largely by sign language and via an iPad. After skating, she will often sit outside with her mom having a snack and watch other skaters through the window of the arena with a smile on her face.
The clubs that Jayda skates at are a key contributor to this world of difference for her. The class sizes are small at both clubs which allows for more one-on-one attention. These classes are also organized in a way that works well for Jayda, with children moving station to station with their teacher and the rest of their group. Her coaches will also take time to bring her back to the group and have put in place accommodations that ensure a positive experience and the opportunity to learn and progress.
“It sounds like a small thing, but it’s not a small thing. It takes a lot of people’s goodwill and consideration to keep this a positive experience” for Jayda and others who might have additional needs to succeed and thrive in a skating environment.
There is no doubt that Jayda’s clubs, coaches and friends have contributed to her skill development and continue to provide her with a wonderful opportunity to grow. For a parent, there is nothing sweeter than seeing your child find joy, especially after periods of hardship. For Jayda, figure skating is that joy, that social circle we all crave so deeply and a place for her to grow. It’s been a gift and one that will hopefully continue to give to her for years to come.