- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 5, 2014

DOYLESTOWN, Pa. (AP) - As he inches up a rock wall, Ian McHale, of Doylestown Township, must rely on his mental skills as well as his physical stamina.

Step by cautious step, he moves higher and higher, grabbing and stepping on small, doughnut-shaped pulls as he goes.

For a child like 11-year-old Ian, who has a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome, it’s a difficult challenge but one that helps him get a step up on skills he will need to succeed in school and life.

That’s what his mother, Elsie, has found as she watches him participate in the Doylestown Rock Gym Adventure Center’s Adaptive Program for children and adults with special needs.

“This is my second son to go through the adaptive program. It touches on a lot of skills that are weak for him - problem solving, handling frustration and walking through the fear,” Elsie McHale said.

The expansive gym, which is next to Doylestown Airport off Old Easton Road in Buckingham, is lined with climbing walls with different degrees of height and difficulty, as well as other experiences for those who like to be vertically challenged. There’s a high-tension wire to try tightrope walking, as well as rope ladders like the military uses to teach new recruits climbing skills.

The gym offers courses for children and adults. For those like Ian who have special needs, it provides the adaptive classes. Some participants in the program are missing limbs or have other physical disabilities. Others, like Ian, have frustrations doing activities that come more easily to others.

The highly articulate boy tells his instructor Andrew Dressnandt, 26, of Hilltown, when he needs help trying a new skill.

Dave Muller, the gym’s assistant manager, said the program helps those with special needs build their strength, coordination and focus. For autistic children, working on focus helps them in other aspects of their lives.

Dressnandt, an experienced mountain climber, has shown Ian the importance of making sure his safety gear is tightly secured and his helmet is on. He checks the safety ropes that Ian has learned to knot through training. They use the French word “belay,” which refers to being ready to climb - “to confirm that everyone is ready to climb, on the same page,” Dressnandt explains.

“On belay?” Ian asked Dressnandt before he started to climb. “Belay on,” Dressnandt replied.

“Climbing,” Ian said.

“Climb on,” Dressnandt replied as the child started up the wall.

While the instructor controlled the safety ropes, Ian figured out how to get up the wall using the randomly placed “doughnut” support notches - like mountainside crevices - embedded into it.

“I’m not pulling him up. He’s doing the work,” Dressnandt said.

Elsie McHale said the sport teaches her son responsibility. Ian agrees as he shows how to expertly tie climber knots.

After finishing the climb, Ian took a ride on a zip line and strolled atop a high wall with a safety harness attached.

Ian said he really enjoys rock climbing. “I just like it. It reminds me of the outdoors,” he said.

The Adaptive Program has varying activities at different fee schedules. For example, a one-hour lesson costs $30; five one-hour lessons or 10 half-hour lessons cost $125.

The gym staff also offers rock-climbing trips to Ralph Stover State Park for regular climbers and those with special needs.

Dressnandt, who recently returned from a climb up Mount McKinley in Alaska, will give a presentation on his climb 8 p.m. Saturday at the gym. It will be part of the gym’s Community BBQ, which begins 6 p.m. Saturday. The barbecue is free for members; day passes are available for non-members. The 8 p.m. talk is free and open to the public.





Information from: The Intelligencer, https://www.theintell.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide