March 28, 2012

Downhill learning

Connor is my 14 year old Autistic son (in case your new to this narrative).

He is a two times gold medal cross country skier with Special Olympics.  He has increased in skill to the point he is working out with the adult group.  On his first trip to Mt. Bachelor  he was enthralled with the ski lifts and wanted to downhill ski.  Last Friday we went to a learning session.

The mind is fascinating and even more so when teaching Connor.  Imagine someone makes a series of sounds and associates them with an object.  Not to tough actually we do this all the time.  Now think of associating these sounds with a concept previously unknown.  That is a real mind bender, as we usually formulate questions to cement the concept.

The first struggle was his ski poles.  He knew he should have them, this was reinforced by everyone he saw having a pair.  However, the instructors want the fundamentals of stopping and turning prior to pole use.  This escalated into a melt down and Connor acting up trying to get his way.  Coaches however, are made of sterner stuff.  With my intervention he started the learning process with a request for poles every bunny hill run.  Accepting, barely the "not yet" response.

After demonstrating the snowplow stop and turning.  He got to go up the beginner lift.  Because it was a lighter day on the hill he got to sit alone on the lift.  This was a turning point as, one of the best things ever!  He even forgot his pole quest as he got to ski down the hill and solo lift up.  He took pains to ensure he was the only one on his lift.

This became a detriment as he was more focused on getting back down to the lift instead of gaining the skills of turning and stopping on the hill.  All in all he progressed to the point where the next hill awaited.

This is where things got scary.  Up till now he was paying little attention to the skills he needed.  I got him some poles, which made him happy. The coaches wisdom quickly presented itself as Connor lost control and started hurtling down the hill.  He attempted to stop by laying on his back, which did not work.  I gave chase and was shouting for him to snow plow.  He got up one time and gave it a mediocre attempt, only to lay down again.  The second time he got up he was able to stop.  This truly scared him, the being out of control, going so fast and his attempts to stop via instinct not working at all.

He abandoned the poles and began to learn from the coach.  So my giving him the poles and his downhill plummet successfully broke his paradigm.  What happened next was his quickly learning to turn, stop and control himself,  the next two runs he applied the knowledge and gained back his confidence.  The last three runs we did were sans poles and he was skiing parallel for a goodly portion.  I noticed that his precision on the slope.  He appeared to make his cuts and turns at exactly the same points each time, with adjustments made for other skiers.

There was more then a little pride seeing his confidence and skill surpassing those familiar jackets who we had shared the mountain with.  By this time his grin showed enjoyment on the slope as well as on the occasional solo lift going up.

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