GiGiFIT builds confidence & mobility in various stages of life
A step is all it takes to move forward, to feel free. That step, although it seems small, holds tremendous power, allowing individuals to pave their own paths and make their way around the world. Steps, however, do not come naturally for people with Down syndrome. In fact, according to the National Library of Medicine, it takes a child with Down syndrome about 28 months to walk, twice as long as a child without a diagnosis.
One kiddo from Phoenix, Arizona, is smashing that statistic. Lee was 2 years old when he and his mom, Becky, were introduced to GiGiFIT. They met Lauren Mitchell, a Certified GiGiFIT Instructor, while at the Phoenix Playhouse. At the time, goals for Lee included strength, endurance, and coordination. What Becky did not expect was that Lee would get hooked from the very first session.
From day one, it filled a need, not just for Lee but for Becky. “COVID was happening, everything was online. We never met our physical therapist in person during early intervention. The only in-person classes for us was GiGiFIT. It came at the perfect time.”
Becky credits GiGiFIT with Lee walking as soon as he did. It was during Lee’s second session of GiGiFIT that he started walking. For all the parents out there with a child who has Down syndrome, you know what this moment means. It is a feeling of joy and pride to witness someone exceeding the expectations of medical professionals.
“He felt so supported by the environment, people around him,” Becky says, “They are having so much fun they don’t even know how hard they are working. Eventually, he would have been able to walk, but just not as soon as he did with in-person classes offered through the program.” Becky adds, “My kid is a very social kid, so GiGi’s is such a happy place for him. He can’t get through the door fast enough. He sees other kids having fun and wants to join in.”
That is the goal of GiGi’s programs, like those led by Lauren. She incorporates movements created by Dr. Sarah Mann and uses what is referred to as “sneaky PT (physical therapy),” work disguised as play. And it is not just about increasing heart rate. Lauren says there is also an increase in cognitive function.
Part of the magic of GiGiFIT is the music accompanying the workout to keep individuals motivated and engaged. According to Lauren, there is a shift in confidence and socialization, along with moving more efficiently. One crucial piece of the program is meeting participants where they are. First, the program is split into age groups with offerings such as GiGiFIT You & I, Infant, Toddler, Kids, Teen, and Adult.
Within each program, there is even more of an opportunity to tailor the sessions. Each move starts with the easiest modification and progresses based on the range of motion for each participant. Lauren says she is lucky to have a team of volunteers who can give attention to each participant. This means they can challenge each participant based on where they are in their progressions.
The Phoenix Playhouse is not the only location benefiting from a range of GiGiFIT programs. At least one of six GiGiFIT programs is offered at 38 of our locations, including GiGi’s At Home, and the movements can be practiced anywhere without much equipment. We supply free materials for participants to actively progress through all 320+ progressions, whether following along at the playhouse or at home.
Such materials help Lee and Becky keep up with their sessions outside of the playhouse. Now 3½ years old, Lee has been on his feet for a year and a half. During that time, he has gone from walking to practicing going up and down stairs with both hands and has since progressed to just needing to hold on with just one hand. It is now Becky who is challenged with keeping up with him!
Would you like to witness these monumental moments for yourself?
We are always looking for additional volunteers to help participants get the most out of each session. If you or someone you know is interested, please attend a Volunteer Orientation, and connect with your local Playhouse for more information. Don’t have a nearby Playhouse? Consider volunteering with our Virtual Playhouse.
Participants can enroll in an upcoming program on our website.