Developmental Gym in Wilmington helps differently-abled kids develop cognitively, physically and socially

Owner Amy Nolan hopes to build more facilities for more NC communities

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WWAY) – Right on Shipyard boulevard, a new gym just opened in November to help advance children who behind on development. It’s one of the only gyms of its kind in the state, and the only one in Wilmington.

“Our practice covers everything from birth to geriatric,” says Therapy Works owner Amy Nolan. “We do feeding, TBIs, speech and language development, autism… it’s the entire gamut and it’s very rewarding on a daily basis. You never know what kid is coming through the door and each is custom to what you do as a therapy plan.”

“There’s so much need. One of every six kids that are born are born with developmental delays. Up until 2019, we had an increase of that percentage by about 18%. Now we’ve had COVID, and those  numbers are skyrocketing. These kids don’t have a safe environment to reach these developmental milestones like they did previously.”

The facility is 2500 feet of ziplines, swings, slides, rock walls, monkey bars, and a bunch of other fun stuff. But the gym also has sections for physical therapy and occupational therapy. They say there’s a spot for all kinds of abilities. Even the nonverbal children can communicate with their therapists with boards and pictures. One of the children, Aaron, communicates through an iPad. He is a Beach Boys fan – one of the first interactions we witnessed was him saying “I want to listen to Surfin U.S.A.”

Then the children began dancing.

Moments like that are clearly enjoyable for the therapists as well. The kids often are doing therapy, without realizing the work they are doing is work.

Nolan says that’s part of what makes the Developmental Gym unique – is combining the legitimate therapeutic activities with a whole lot of fun. She has 23 years of experience professionally as a speech pathologist, and she wants kids to have access to these facilities everywhere.

She says one late night, the idea came to her.

“I started looking online and I found Fun Factory Sensory Gyms. One of the owners is a occupational therapist. They came in and we created it together over a two week period. It was awesome. The kids are developing faster than I ever thought they would. They are really, really flourishing. When you walk through the door – it makes your heart pitter patter. W hen you se these kids with the smiles on their face and then you ask your child to do just one thing and they accomplish it … it’s pretty awesome. We had kids who couldn’t go up these stairs and now they are going up with their hands over their heads rotating feet. It’s just awesome. Even if they are coming in with another therapist with a different company, I am ok with it. If they are coming in with ABA, come in and have that opportunity for your child to reach those essential milestones. It’s a safe environment. The doors are locked. We’ve got ways to keep safety. Parents can know they are learning and having fun at the same time.”

The therapists don’t want to overload the sensory input of the children as well, so they keep the groups small. Right now, they are only allowing a handful of kids at a time as they continue to work the kinks out. That is also due to COVID-19, and trying to lessen potential spread. They clean each stations as soon as the children are finished.

Another important aspect of the gym, therapists say, is the social aspect. Sessions are one-on-one with therapists. But having positive social pressure to overcome challenges is productive for the children.

“It’s not necessarily Miss Dale asking us to do something,” says Dale Harris Murchison, a occupational therapist with Therapy Works, ” All of a sudden we are motivated and even if it is something that is a little scarier, if a friend did it, we may be more motivated to try it. We often get a little more brave than just (me) asking (them) to do something.”

That social aspect has more or less been removed from many children’s plate because of the pandemic. Nolan says that is a very important part of a child’s development.

” You may only have 5 kids … but pragmatically, some of these kids don’t know how to interact – even before COVID right? Now they’re in an environment is fun, stimulating, and they see similar children.”

“Everyday I get to come in here play and work hard with kids who can benefit from this,” says Sarah Jon Paquin, a speech pathologist with Therapy Works. “We combine speech and fine motor skills and language all together. When my kids come here, their language flourishes. They are able to request things, ask for things, and get excited about speech and language, things they wouldn’t be excited about sitting at a table in my office. We want to see them be able to focus on one task at a time – and then move or transition to other things as opposed to just sitting in my office is great – I have a lot of good materials in there – but sometimes they need to get up. They need to jump, they need to bounce, they need to move”

Learn more about the Developmental Gym in the link here.

Categories: New Hanover, Sports