An increasing trend within the neurodiverse community has been creating active environments. From boxing gyms for those who suffer from Parkinson’s Disease, karate classes for those on the spectrum, to sports leagues for only the neurodiverse, exercise is a proven way to reduce stress and anxiety and help increase cognitive ability while also providing the opportunity to practice social skills in a safe setting.
Near West Side Chicago, Easterseals, a nonprofit dedicated to helping those with disabilities, recently broke ground for a new, $12 million, state of the art fitness center specifically designed for kids with Autism. While Easterseals exists nationwide, its Chicago chapter serves 33,000 people each year, providing programs like Camp Friendship, Head Start, caretaker respite and Easterseals Academy.
“The academy is approved by the Illinois State Board of Education as a referral site for students 3-21 years old with autism, emotional or intellectual disabilities or developmental delays. Along with Common Core-aligned instruction, students also receive speech therapy, vocational training, art therapy and behavioral consultation.”
This new fitness center, being built right next to Easterseals’ headquarters and academy, will provide a place for their academy students to participate in adapted physical education tailored to each individual’s needs.
“We knew our kids deserved this, so we said let’s roll up our sleeves and do it. So when we open the doors [on the fitness center], it will be the culmination of a dream we had 15 years ago,” said Tim Muri, President and CEO of Easterseals.
Common issues children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) incur are hypersensitivity to bright lights and loud noises, being nonverbal, and difficulty socializing. Due to these conditions most public fitness facilities are not suitable for a majority of children with ASD.
“Having a recreation area with nonflorescent lighting and stress-relieving activities are key aspects to mitigate those frustrations. But for the most part, the fitness center will look no different than a typical gym. The goal is to make these kids feel as much as possible that they’re part of their peer groups and kids their age, so you wouldn’t notice anything too different” at the center. Muri said.
This piece is based on an article by Ariel Cheung for DNAinfo.com, which can be seen here.