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Adaptive Ice Skating Helps Build Strength For Children With Special Needs

BOSTON (CBS) - Building strength and friendships while having a lot of fun.

That's the goal of an innovative program for special needs kids designed by the Franciscan Hospital for Children. It's called adaptive ice skating, and it's making a big difference in the lives of these kids.

Every Wednesday for 10 weeks, 30 kids ages 4 to 18 take a special class at an ice rink in Cambridge. The program is the work of a team headed by Maria Fragala-Pinkham, a physical therapist at Franciscan Hospital for Children.

The hospital, which is in Brighton, is one of the nation's largest pediatric rehabilitation hospitals.

"They're kids with special needs that might have diagnoses like cerebral palsy, autism, who have balance and coordination problems," says Fragala-Pinkham. Each child is paired with a coach, usually a college student who is studying physical therapy or nursing. Therapists from the hospital supervise.

"As they skate and do certain skills and games there's coordination and balance skills that they will learn along the way. It's great for strengthening. It's great for endurance," says Fragala-Pinkham. One of the skaters, Zachary Steward, says it's working for him.

"I get stronger in my legs even though they hurt so much, and I actually feel myself getting stronger and stronger each week I skate," he says.

Some kids skate solo, some get a hand from coaches who support them, and others get a boost from special adaptive equipment that looks like a walker or more elaborate structures to hold them up as they move across the ice. That's the case with Maryann Haldi's son Ethan.

"He's learning how to ice skate even though he's normally in a wheelchair. It gives him freedom. He loves being able to do this," she says.

Alex Reveliotty's 6-year-old son, Max is a skater, too.

"Max struggles very much with his balance and his leg strength. When they first mentioned this program to us we said, you're a little bit crazy because he has a tough time walking. So on ice he's not going to do so well. But it has been phenomenal," says Alex.

Not only does Max walk and climb stairs now, he's also on the ice.

"His legs are getting stronger and his balance is getting much, much better," says his father. "It's made an incredible difference," he adds.

"One of the skills they leave here with is being able to skate on their own, which is a huge thing, and to be able to fall and get up on their own," says Fragala-Pinkham "I think it makes a great difference because they can get out in their community and participate," she adds.

To learn more about Franciscan Hospital for Children, go to their Website.

To learn more about Franciscan Hospital's adaptive ice skating program, check out their Website.

Let us know if you have any suggestions for stories where people are getting together to make a difference. Email Jackie Connally at:

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