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Danimira Ivanova, an occupational therapist at Waltopia, talks about working with children with autism and various developmental disorders in the climbing halls of Waltopia. Climb Academy, Walltopia Climbing Center and the “Autism Today” association. Learn more about the progress that children achieve thanks to the therapeutic method and the sport of climbing.

1. Tell us more about yourself

I am currently graduating from the Medical University – Sofia, while managing to apply my knowledge and potential to children with different educational needs in my work as an occupational therapist in the Association “Autism Today” and Walltopia Climbing Center. I came into this field because I wanted to do something that would be useful to society. Often children with autism are neglected and overlooked with various epithets, which is unfortunate because they are unique, powerful and good.
And although the work so far has given me a lot of experience and knowledge, I want to expand my horizons and continue to develop in this field, helping them. Outside of work, I like to play sports – mostly climbing and volleyball, but I am also interested in many other sports. I relax with a brush and canvas in hand, and on my free days I love walking in the mountains with good company.

2. When and how did you discover climbing as a therapeutic tool?

I started my work at Walltopia Climbing Center as an occupational therapist for children with SEN about a year ago, but during my studies, I read articles and research conducted mainly in Western countries on the impact of various sports such as climbing, horseback riding and swimming on the motor development of children with autism.
In this regard, I came across various online courses and modern “webinars”, which enriched my knowledge of the real benefits of climbing. I was very impressed with this type of therapy and I am glad that at the moment I have the incredible opportunity to apply it.

3. What is Occupational Therapy?

In Bulgaria, unfortunately, Occupational Therapy is not as widespread as a profession, and it provides support and knowledge in important for children and adults skills related to the development of their independence and autonomy. Occupational therapy, in itself, reflects the interaction between personality, environment and action and thus fulfills its main goal – to allow people to participate freely in the activities of their daily lives, improving their health and well-being.

The training of children with SEN includes adaptation to the individual needs of the child and use of his potential to achieve specific goals related to his motor and cognitive development.

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4. How does a training session in the gym go?

My favorite question so far, which I can answer in one word – crazy. The training of children with special needs includes adapting to the individual needs of the child and using his potential to achieve specific goals related to his motor and cognitive development.

We first start with a few “learning sessions” for both me and the child, where I assess his abilities and interests, and this most often happens in Climb Academy – our children’s climbing hall. Against them we start the training sessions as gradually, with many guidelines and demonstrations, we manage to cope with the challenges and new skills.

Together we overcome the sometimes negative emotions caused by the simultaneous receipt of new sensory stimuli and requirements from the environment. By perceiving them, we spontaneously generate an adaptive response and response to these stimuli. Every quality we develop through games and of course small rewards in the form of “rewards” for success.

5. What are the benefits of occupational therapy for children with autism?

Here is the question I do not know where to start. I want to say simply – countless. But let’s start with global motility – the development of the muscles of the whole body, coordination of movements, motor planning, balance, balance and bilateral coordination, or simply the work of both halves of the body to work in sync, which is a common problem in children with autism.

This, of course, makes it easier laterfine motor skills – training of various power and precise grips, which helps the further handling of objects in the school environment, for example. Improving hand-foot-eye coordination, which plays a significant role in the daily activities of all of us – thus the child learns to navigate the environment, develops its spatial orientation and achieves certain goals from which he feels satisfied.

Sensory disorders (tactile, visual, auditory) are often observed, which we also deal with through gradual adaptation. ‘Cognitive development is an integral part of the whole process of climbing training session – pointing out colors, objects, vocalizing non-verbal children, making decisions and dealing with problems. Along with all these benefits, we improve and perhaps most importantly – their social integration and interaction with peers in a universal workout in the form of a game.

6. Tell us what progress you are making with your students in the hall?

In the feedback with the parents after each training session, I share how it went, what we worked on and how their child is doing so far. We achieve the best results when the child independently and through small directions directs his actions, while his environment is unobtrusively directed.

The family is always part of the whole therapeutic process and by maintaining constant communication we manage to get the best out of it. Every child is at a different stage of development and needs different therapeutic methods to maximize their potential.

In our joint work with the parents we take small steps towards achieving the individual goals that the child is faced with.

7. Based on your experience, would you like to share something else with the parents of children with autism?

I want to share not only with parents, but with all people, that children with autism and various developmental disorders CAN. They can be anything they want, like any of us, they can make their dreams come true and be socially integrated as long as they are guided, supported and unconditionally loved.
Despite all the difficulties they face, the parents of these children are heroes – heroes of patience, heroes of acceptance, heroes of understanding, heroes of doing their best for the common well-being of their children. I admire them. And last but not least, I want to thank them and tell them that I am proud of each of them for the strength they show.

The first practice is
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