Vivien Symington, BA/BPHE

Founder

Vivien has lived rehabilitation and gymnastics all her life.  Her father was a renowned physiatrist (rehabilitation medicine specialist) who practiced in Britain, Canada and the USA.  Vivien was exposed to rehabilitation gyms from her infancy.  She discovered her passion for gymnastics while accompanying her Dad to the rehab gym whenever she had the chance.  An accident left her brother quadriplegic at the age of 19, motivating her to bring her love of gymnastics to all children, including those living with disabilities.  Vivien obtained degrees in Physical and Health Education at Queen’s and Dalhousie Universities, specializing in adapted physical education and gymnastics. 

Vivien has 40 years of gymnastics coaching experience and 26 years as a gymnastics business owner.   She owns a large community-based gymnastics centre which offers a wide range of recreational, competitive and specialized programs.  Programs for typical children are integrated with those for children and youth living with autism and other developmental disabilities.  This reflects her philosophy of promoting optimal development of all children and youth, regardless of their level of ability or disability.

In 2002, under direct consultation with her father, Vivien established a program for children living with autism.  This has grown into the Empowering Steps Movement Therapy Program (ESMT), copyrighted in 2008, which serves about 100 special children annually both with autism and other types of motor impairments.  ESMT involves a gymnastics based curriculum, an aquatic curriculum, a bike riding program, a coach/therapist training course, a university affiliated preceptor program for undergraduate students and an evaluation/ research arm.

Vivien is deeply aware of the challenges facing a disabled child, and also their family.  Her program reaches and includes the entire family.  Parents and siblings are frequently included in sessions to build child self esteem, parent confidence and healthy family relationships.

Vivien is committed to the evaluation of all aspects of her programs using appropriate research methodology.  Children’s progress is evaluated quantitatively twice each year using a unique motor skills scale.  Child functioning between gym sessions is evaluated using parent and teacher-perception questionnaires.  Preliminary research findings (described in a narrative review of scientific literature in 2011) suggest that the program produces highly significant improvements in many neuromotor areas that generalize to home, school and community. Vivien has extensive experience with staff training development to ensure safety, consistency and efficacy of all programs.

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