He’s 9 years old and has autism. He’s headed to gymnastics nationals for the third time.

Micah Miner has found happiness on the trampoline — and success, as he heads to nationals for the third time.

Micah, 9, has just finished fourth grade at Woodland Elementary School in Edwardsville. Micah has pervasive developmental disorder on the autism spectrum, and he is part of District 7’s “Castle” program that is designed to help children who have autism develop relationships with children outside the special-needs curriculum. Micah has some classes entirely in special education and other classes where he is part of the traditional curriculum.

This was a big priority for Micah’s parents, Maurice and Kimberley Miner.

“If you’re taking special needs kids with Asperger’s and autism and putting them in one class by themselves, all they ever learn is their behaviors and tics,” Maurice said. “If they put them in the mainstream, they learn what society terms to be acceptable behaviors.”

But it’s in the gymnasium where Micah has really begun to fly. When he was 5 years old, he started in the gymnastics program at the Edwardsville YMCA. He struggled at first with the “information overload,” Maurice said, but after some time at a private gym, he learned how to focus and found he was a natural at gymnastics.

“There are a lot of social cues they don’t pick up,” Maurice said. While the noise and confusion of a gymnastics training session or competition can be overwhelming to a child who has autism, he said it helps Micah expand his comfort zone.

“It’s allowed him to blossom as a social individual,” Maurice said.

Micah has tested into the advanced class at the YMCA, then entered a competitive team. Maurice said Micah has gone from being unable to listen, respond or be coached to taking high honors at national competitions.

“Autism is a black-and-white world for him,” Maurice said. “He’s his own worst critic. With autism, that’s heightened.”

To that extent, Maurice said he thinks Micah’s autism sometimes proves to be helpful in his gymnastics pursuits.

“The repetitiveness that comes with gymnastics, repeating it over and over,” he said. “He can look at videos of himself and other athletes. He can watch it for hours and hours and see what he needs to work on ... But there’s disappointment if he stumbles or takes an extra step. He can stay fixated on it, and it can hinder him in performance later on.”

Now Micah trains three days a week at Kris’ Power Tumbling in Shelbyville, and he’s racked up a number of awards:

▪  In 2015, he went to the Southern Illinois state meet and placed third in double mini and first in trampoline and rod floor in the intermediate boys 8 and under division. He also placed third in double mini and second in trampoline and rod floor at nationals.

▪  In 2016, he took first place in double mini, trampoline and rod floor in the advanced boys 8 and under division at Southern Illinois state meet and competed at nationals as the sole competitor in his category.

▪  In 2017, he took first place at the Southern Illinois state meet for double mini, trampoline and rod floor in the advanced boys 9-10 division, and qualified as an elite athlete.

Micah is set to compete at the 2017 U.S. Tumbling and Trampoline Association National Championship in Madison, Wisconsin from June 20-24.

For this honor, he was recently recognized by Madison County Sheriff John Lakin, who said although Micah is only in fourth grade, his accomplishments speak volumes about his dedication and passion to the sport.

Micah said his favorite part of gymnastics is half-in, half-out, demonstrating the trampoline movement with a hat twisting over a table. He smiled when asked about nationals and his training gym, though after the competition, he is looking forward to taking a break and spending time with the family at home.

“How do I feel doing gymnastics?” he said. “Happy.”

Maurice said they have figured out ways that work with Micah today. Tomorrow? They may need to come up with a whole new system.

“This is our reality,” he said.

Micah’s older brother also has autism, and their daughter has dyslexia. The school district has been terrific, Maurice said, providing a great deal of assistance to Micah and the family.

“Autism doesn’t have to be a limitation,” Maurice said. “You can find them avenues that it can blossom.”

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald

Meet Micah Miner

  • Age: 9 and a half
  • School: Woodland Elementary, Edwardsville
  • Grade: just completed 4th grade
  • Town: Glen Carbon
  • Parents: Maurice and Kimberley Miner
  • Siblings: Maurice Jr. and Ariah Miner
  • Clubs and activities: Competitive gymnastics, training at Kris’s Tumbling in Shelbyville
  • Pastimes: Rollerskating at the YMCA, rock climbing, family time
  • Favorite classes: Math and spelling
  • Future plans: “To do my best” at the national tumbling and trampoline competition in Wisconsin in June