#75 - Physical Fitness in the Special Needs Community

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Maintaining healthy fitness levels is challenging enough for the general population and can be even more complicated for those with disabilities. What can we do about some of the common barriers so our loved one with differing abilities is on a path toward health?

Ryan Lockard, CSCS, CSPS, is the founder and CEO of Specialty Athletic Training. Since it’s launch in 2012 Specialty Athletic Training has exclusively trained individuals with special needs.

Ryan shares with us how to he makes fitness fun for his clients and some ideas on how we can use waiver funding available to pay a trainer. While not a registered dietitian, Ryan tells us some tools his clients are using to help with the dietary aspects of fitness.

Mentioned in This Episode

  • Ryan’s career and interest in fitness in the special needs community began when he had a job in college being a 1:1 aid to a boy, named Ben, with autism. Ryan saw the exercise expectations were much lower for Ben for no apparent reason. After talking, Ryan discovered the reason Ben did not like to exercise was because he did not like to sweat. Sweating freaked him out as he didn’t understand what was happening to his body. All it took was an explanation for Ben to be okay with this sensation.

  • Ryan formed an LLC for Specialty Athletic Training in June of 2012 and since then has serviced 350 clients of multiple diagnosis from the ages of 3 - 63.

  • There are a lot of contributors to obesity in the disability community including negative exercise experiences similar to Ben’s, sedentary lifestyle, and medication.

  • Although it can be very similar, Ryan keeps exercise separate from physical therapy by the mindset and environment. He achieves this by modifying the exercise names, offering choice, and by training in inclusive environment like crossfire boxes, student centers, and even gyms where professional athletes are training. Exercises are happening in a culture of fitness rather than rehabilitaion.

  • Most of the clients at Specialty Athletic Training come from OT referrals and parents who are concerned with weight gan and dietary changes and are looking for a quality program in an inclusive environment.

  • That state of Washington allows residents to use waiver hours under the community respite category to pay for the training. This could be an option in other states as well if a trainer is willing to go through the process of becoming a provider. It will take a bit of time for the first payment to come through and there is a good bit of paperwork involved. Another payment option is to utilize flex spending with a prescription for exercise because of hypotonia or other diagnostic contributors. 

  • The nutritional aspect is a big contributor to fitness. While not a registered dietitian, Ryan does speak to his clients of the importance of lifestyle choices. In minutes 29:00- 31:00, Kim tells the story of when she realized she was contributing to her daughters weight gain and also what her nephew, who has autism, told her about not having the ability to know when he is full. Rather, he needs someone to regulate it for him. Ryan has found clients who have similar issues have a lot of success with an app like My Fitness Pal to help gage nutritional and caloric intake. 

  • Sometimes parents can be too protective of their children or too concerned with weaknesses that need to be corrected and so exercise becomes too intense or restrictive rather than fun. Even clients who have 1:1 aids at school are good fits for Ryan’s program. He encourages parents to step away and give the child space because that is when progress accellerates. 

    Minute 43 - Kim tells the story of how she learned this truth and this lesson. Read about it in this blog post.

This show is part of a 12 episode health series in season 3.