It has been almost five years since I founded Specialty Athletic Training. This morning as I browsed through my phone to look for a photo to post on Instagram, I couldn't help but think about the reason why I created Specialty Athletic Training. Every picture reminded me of the first boy that introduced me to the world of autism nearly ten years ago and who would end up changing my life forever.
He was a boy that kept to himself, but could tell you anything you wanted to know about Disney movies (voice cast lists, dates movies were released, etc). He had a few foods that he loved, and a lot that he despised. He loved to watch SpongeBob SquarePants, but would rewind and fast forward to watch his favorite scenes over and over again. He was my introduction to the world of autism.
The boy's name was Benjamin. I was hired to be his 1:1 aide, or as he referred to the position his "worker". I quickly realized that he experienced the world in a completely different way than I did. He experienced the world in a black and white type of way, which is tough when others around you don't. We had to teach him social norms and how his actions affected others. That you can't stare at a girl because you find her nice to look at. That when you go to the restroom, you can't go to the closest urinal if someone is using the stall next to it because of the unspoken "stall buffer" rule.
I also learned that society had placed their unfair lower expectations for him because he was "different". He would have behaviors in school that were fueled out of frustration and confusion, which would result in holding him to a different standard than his peers. For example, Ben would only run two laps around the gym for a warm up in PE, as his peers would run four. I knew he could physically run more, but I didn't see why two laps was the point where he would consistently begin to have melt downs and need redirection in PE class. To figure it out, I looked at the situation in a way that I learned from working with Ben and my training, there is always a trigger behind a behavior. So, what was happening at that two lap mark that would cause him to get agitated? One word, sweat.
That's right. It was sweat that caused Ben to feel so uncomfortable that he would flop on the floor and scream for a period of time. But why? It freaked him out and rightfully so. What is sweat? Why is this happening to my body? These were some of the unanswered questions that raced through his head. After explaining the process of thermoregulation, Ben understood what was happening to his body. Sweating still isn't his favorite thing, but he no longer becomes anxious when he sweats.
As time went on and we continued to exercise at school and at home, Ben started verbalizing other feelings in his body that he was unsure about. "Ryan, my legs they feel weak" and "Ryan, my heart feels like it is coming out of my chest" are just a couple of examples. This experience became the reason that I created Specialty Athletic Training in 2012, where Ben was our first client.
Fast forward to the present day, we have now trained over 200 individuals of various ages and disabilities, that like Ben, had previously had negative experiences with exercise. Reflecting on this growth and our recent expansion, gets me excited for the future and our ability to provide the same opportunity to the next 200 clients.
About the Author
Ryan Lockard, CSCS, CFNS, is the head trainer and founder of Specialty Athletic Training. He is President of the Autism Society of Oregon's Board of Directors and is accredited by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, as well as by the International Sports Science Association (ISSA) as a Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist. Ryan has worked with individuals with special needs since 2007 and has over 10,000 hours of 1:1 instruction working with individuals that have various special needs.