Nonprofit, local gym team up to assist those with autism
Times News - 1/28/2018
Jan. 28--A local gym is partnering with a nonprofit to better serve those on the autism spectrum, and both parties are already seeing positive results.
Back in October, Whole Body Fitness in Hendersonville started working with pre-teen students at St. Gerard House, a nonprofit organization that offers treatment for individuals with autism and other behavioral health needs.
Around half a dozen come to the gym once a week and work individually with trainers and staff. The gym is divided into four exercise stations. Students rotate throughout the session, and end each day with free time to play.
Owner and certified trainer at Whole Body Fitness Ansley Leitner has noticed a great deal of improvement since the teens started coming to her gym in the fall. She and two of her trainers have noted more communication with the teens and an increased level of excitement.
"I can tell they all really look forward to it, and we do too," Leitner said.
Caroline Long, founder/executive director of St. Gerard, said the partnership is the first of its kind for the nonprofit. She has seen an increase in focus and a reduction in anxiety for the students, including two of her children who are in the program.
Long's son goes to speech therapy multiple times a week, including right after exercise sessions at the gym on Tuesdays. Long said the speech therapist has told her that her son is more verbal and interactive in those sessions that follow the exercise routine.
The partnership is also giving opportunities to the teens and children who oftentimes miss out.
"Lots of children with autism lack coordination and other skills, so they don't do as well in team sports," Long said. "That means they miss out sometimes. This gives them an outlet they don't have anywhere else."
Long said the students will soon start coming to the YMCA to gain skills involving human interaction and behavior.
Exercise is one of the most effective treatments for individuals with autism, according to the Autism Research Institute. Studies show exercise is associated with a decrease in hyperactivity, aggression, self-injury and destructiveness.
The autism rate is around 1 in 68 in the U.S. and 1 in 58 in North Carolina, according to St. Gerard's website.
The plan is to continue to expand the program. The second phase would be to include adults into the program, and a third would offer the exercise to staff at St. Gerard House.
Whole Body Fitness recently raised $4,000 for St. Gerard House, thanks to the generosity from clients at the gym. Leitner chooses a cause each year to donate to, and picked St. Gerard House since the cause is now near and dear to her heart. St. Gerard will use the money for items on their wish list, including sensory items, therapeutic equipment and tools of their gardening program.
For more information about St. Gerard House and its mission, go to www.stgerardhouse. org.
The nonprofit is currently hosting a raffle to raise money. Go to www.stgerardhouse.org/donate to find out how to make a contribution.
Reach Rebecca Walter at firstname.lastname@example.org
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