EPISODE 21: AUTISM & FITNESS
“Tailoring Exercise Programs to Match Needs”
It’s widely known that physical fitness and exercise lead to better physical health, but it’s less widely known that there are both mental and behavioral benefits as well. Experts have proven that consistent exercise improves concentration, attention, organizational skills, which leads to a reduction in problem behaviors.
Today’s episode features Mark Fleming, founder of Puzzle Piece Fitness. He was diagnosed at the age of 3 with PDD-NOS, then formally diagnosed with autism at the age of 11. His “special interest” growing up was sports. He constantly heard how he was able to read the box scores in the paper before he could even read. He also had fine motor skill deficits that prevented him from playing the sports he loved so much, but he had something greater - parents that not only allowed him to play, but pushed him to play. After graduating with his Bachelors and Masters from the University of Alabama, he set a goal of using functional training with individuals in the autism community. He not only incorporates strength and cardiovascular training, but also incorporates exercises that help with motor planning and social skills. He wants to be a person that these individuals can turn to, so they can see they are not alone or helpless in this weird world we live in.
ABOUT PUZZLE PIECE FITNESS:
Mark founded Puzzle Piece Fitness, LLC as a means to improve the quality and quantity of the lives of individuals on the Autism Spectrum and Related Disabilities. Growing up his "special interest" was sports. He constantly heard how he was able to read the box scores in the paper before I could even read. However, he also had numerous fine motor skill deficits that prevented him from playing the sports he loved so much, but thankfully had parents that not only allowed him to play but pushed him to play. He was never able to realize his dream of playing sports professionally, but was able to find a new love of fitness in college. After receiving the majority of his education towards a Masters degree in Exercise Science, he was given an opportunity to work as a behavior assistant with an applied behavior analysis company working with individuals with Autism. Through his encounters while working in this field plus the encounters he had through volunteering and coaching in Special Olympics he noticed two startling trends. The first is that outside of school physical education, many individuals with Autism have very few opportunities to stay active and healthy. The second is that physical and occupational therapies provide great opportunities for this population in terms of being physically active, however, the therapies usually only cover obvious deficits and services are stopped once those deficits are corrected or the individual ages out of the school system. He continued to see individuals with little opportunity to stay active and even fewer opportunities for them to receive proper instruction of correct movement and form. After realizing that he could help provide these opportunities, he reached out and learned from the few others in the country that have been exercise training these individuals for years. After learning as much as he could, he decided to start a business providing personal exercise sessions for this population.
Puzzle Piece Fitness LLC, is a personal training service. He does not consider this to be a typical Autism or Related Disabilities kind of therapy. Exercise is a therapy that everybody in life should participate in and is life long and thus there are no "graduation" achievement milestones. His goal is to use some functional training with these individuals that not only incorporates strength and cardiovascular training, but also incorporating some things within the exercise that can help motor planning, improvement of social skills, and possibly increase cognitive functioning. He wants to be a person that these individuals can turn to, so they can see they are not alone or helpless in this weird world we live in.
Children on the autism spectrum are still children! They can play catch, swim, play, run, just like their neurotypical friends. Perhaps they need to be taught in an “adapted” way. Break down complex motor skills into small tasks and teach them step-by-step. Perhaps adjust the rules of a game as necessary if they are struggling to remember them.
It’s absolutely imperative that every individual, regardless of ability or age, have access to exercise programs that are tailored to their needs.
Thanks so much for joining me today and for being a part of My Autism Tribe. I’ll see you next week!
Puzzle Piece Fitness (website) - https://www.puzzlefit.com/
Puzzle Piece Fitness (Facebook) - https://www.facebook.com/puzzlepiecefitness
Puzzle Piece Fitness (Instagram) - https://www.instagram.com/puzzlepiecefitness/
Puzzle Piece Fitness (LinkedIn) - https://www.linkedin.com/in/mark-fleming-23a2115a/?trk=hp-identity-name