The Autism Fitness Handbook: An Exercise Program to Boost Body Image, Motor Skills, Posture and Confidence in Children and Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder is a book written by David Geslak that covers a wide range of topics from exercise to self-esteem. It’s divided into easy-to-follow sections including “Engage” (how to build relationships with the client), “Educate” (how to set up a program), “Empower” (success stories), and of course, “Exercise” (examples of workouts for children with autism). This book, released in 2015, is a groundbreaking take on fitness and how to adapt it to those who are differently abled. Geslak makes fitness inclusive and accessible to all trainers in his work.
Let’s summarize the book in parts:
Part 1: Engage
This section covers how the trainer can engage with the client and, therefore, how to teach the client to engage with their own body. It’s about introducing the idea of fitness to the client by growing self-esteem in them and building a relationship with them. We’re especially fond of this section because it reminds the reader, likely a personal trainer themselves, that the client is a person first. Everyone’s fitness journey is unique, regardless of their physical or intellectual abilities, and it’s important to remember that upfront and meet the client where they are in order to make progress.
Part 2: Educate
Part 2 of The Autism Fitness Handbook is for the personal trainer’s education. This is where the reader learns The Five Components of Physical Fitness, how to set up an individualized program for their clients, and how to create an exercise schedule that their client can read and understand. If you’re a personal trainer yourself, then it’s pretty likely that you’re a do-er. You probably understand the importance of organization and paperwork, but it’s not your favorite part of the job. Geslak clearly outlines the hardest part of being a trainer, making it easy and — dare we say it? — fun.
Part 3: Empower
Part 3, the “Empower” section, is arguably the most important part of The Autism Fitness Handbook. This is the part where readers meet inspiration, where the author spreads hope in the form of everyday success stories. Fitness is achievable for all, and Geslak can prove it. He does exactly that in this incredible book. Through the stories of Adam, Anthony, Ben, Derek, RJ, Rachel, Bill, and Roan, Geslak makes it clear that a little hard work and a lot of commitment can go a long way.
Part 4: Exercise
While this wonderful book wouldn’t be what it is without the preluding three sections, the “Exercise” portion is the meat and potatoes, the heart and soul. It starts with a section on body image, making sure the client understands all the parts of their body and familiarizes themselves with it. Oftentimes, clients with autism live sedentary lifestyles, so it’s important that we make sure, as trainers, that the client understands their body well enough to follow directions and understand when something doesn’t feel quite right.
From here, Geslak expands into five additional sections that zone in on different parts of the body for a well-rounded fitness regimen.
With sedentary lifestyles come posture issues. They’re practically one in the same. Once you have helped your client feel connected to their body, you can then help them correct their posture. Geslak advises his readers to instruct their clients to do calf stretches, hip extensions, the yoga posture downward-facing dog, and more.
A wonderful benefit of exercise for those with special needs is improved motor function. Geslak shares some exercises that are specifically targeted to help in this area, like catching large and then smaller balls, crossover marching, ladder drilling, and more.
Building muscle requires endurance and resistance training, usually involving weights. Geslak recommends advising the client to use dumbbells, bands, and medicine balls to build strength and endurance.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that having a firm core is not just about physical appearance. Rather than focusing solely on getting a six-pack or winning a body-building competition, it’s about creating a sense of balance and stability within oneself. By engaging with their core, clients can feel more secure in their bodies, which can reduce behavioral outbursts and cultivate a sense of inner-calm. To help clients achieve this, Geslak recommends teaching them the Superman Series, push-up holds (or planks), partner crunches, and “Elbows ‘n’ Toes” exercises.
Cardio is a crucial element of fitness, but it must be a priority for your client if they are overweight. Rather than simply asking your client to run, Gaslak suggests various types of running that can be fun and playful. His approach encourages a dynamic and engaging fitness experience. First, however, he introduces the mechanics of running. Sometimes, when things come easily to us, we forget how to instruct others to follow our lead. Going back to the basics is an important part of teaching. From there, the author recommends treadmill exercises, cone running, exercise biking, and jumping on a trampoline.
We loved this book, and we think you will too. You can purchase the ebook for less than $15 and the paperback for less than $25 on Amazon. But enough about our opinion! Have you read the book? What did you think of it? Tell us all your thoughts in the comments below. Share this blog post on social media to get a healthy debate going!
Want to Specialize in Special Needs?
After learning how to better assist clients, you may decide to specialize in working with people with special needs. Welcome to the club! When you sign up for the certification course with Strong Education, you’re embarking on a journey to help everyone — not just the physically and intellectually able — attain a healthy, happy lifestyle. Check out our two fitness certification options to learn which one is right for you.
Strong Education teaches personal trainers and service providers on how to adapt fitness and nutrition for children, adolescents, and adults with autism, Down Syndrome, and other disabilities through our online adaptive special needs certification course.