Founder Ryan Lockard was interviewed by Stanley Bronstein for his How One Person Can Change the World series. Mr. Bronstein is the founder of SuperChangeYourLife.com.
As featured in The Chronicle Magazine
During the third football game of his senior year at Lewis & Clark, he tore his ACL, an important ligament in the knee. Unwilling to accept defeat, he applied for an NCAA medical redshirt exception that would give him time to heal with the hope of playing another year.
Lockard zeroed in on academics and his recovery and also started checking out Craigslist ads for work. One ad, in particular, caught his eye: Parents of a 13-year-old autistic boy needed one-on-one help for their son, Ben. Lockard accompanied the young teen to all his middle-school classes, building rapport and learning about his love of Disney movies and SpongeBob SquarePants. “He felt safe opening up to me,” remembers Lockard.
During PE class, Ben was required to run warm-up laps, but he’d often get extremely agitated and stop. His progress really took off when Lockard discovered what was holding Ben back: “It came down to a simple thing, really—he didn’t like to sweat. No one ever explained to him what causes your body to sweat, so it freaked him out.” When he learned that it’s the body’s way of cooling down, Ben agreed to deal with his discomfort and trust Lockard that everything would be all right.
“Ben is 23 now and still works out with us four days a week,” says Lockard, founder and head trainer of Specialty Athletic Training. “He’s like a little brother to me.”
Lockard manages two Specialty Athletic Training locations in Portland and one in Vancouver, Washington. He also runs the physical education program at Portland’s Bridges Middle School, an independent school designed for kids with learning differences. In addition, he volunteers as an assistant strength and conditioning coach at Lewis & Clark and serves on the board of the Autism Society of Oregon.
Lockard’s training sessions are always upbeat and positive. Workouts often include a combination of cardio and weight training based on the client’s interests and abilities. “We want our clients to gain confidence and independence,” he says.
A natural athlete, Lockard grew up in Creswell, Oregon, where he played football, baseball, and basketball in high school. Recruited to play Pioneer football, he forged a brotherhood with fellow players and found a mentor in then coach Chris Sulages.
“During my junior year, my dad was deployed in Kuwait with the Navy,” he says. “Coach Sulages stepped in as a father figure, helping me through that tough time.” Lockard went on to play three seasons of football overseas in Orléans, France; Slagelse, Denmark; and Warsaw, Poland. His first season in France was a sink-or-swim experience. “Being the only American made me more self-aware,” he says. “I had to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable.”
Former teammates have been instrumental advisors as he continues to grow his business. One in Poland is helping him set up his first European workshop. Lockard also plans to share his expertise on college campuses in the States.
Back at Lewis & Clark, home to one of his Portland locations, he frequently involves clients in Pioneer sports activities. They’ve played basketball during halftime and have been bat boys and girls at baseball games, as well as ball “shaggers” at volleyball games.
Specialty Athletic Training’s team has a family vibe. Lockard’s wife, Mary Moore, is the company’s creative director. Andrew Traver BA ’15, a four- year letter winner in football and baseball who went on to play football in Germany, is the company’s lead trainer at the Lewis & Clark location. Personal trainer Alex Jones BA ’17 played men’s basketball at L&C and hopes to pursue a career in health care.
For Lockard, providing Lewis & Clark students with sports-related internships has been gratifying. Together they’ve raised clients’ expectations and boosted their confidence. “Statistically, individuals with special needs are more likely to encounter health issues,” he says. “Making exercise fun and informative helps them stay active and engaged.”
As featured in Spectrums Magazine (Winter 2017 Issue)
The benefits of a good physical fitness routine, for the autism population as well as those with special health care needs, are many. Benefits may include better balance and coordination, improved motor function, better self-control and self-regulation, increased ability to focus on tasks, less anxiety, better overall health and even improved socialization.
So why doesn’t everyone exercise? Many youth and adults on the autism spectrum have challenges with low muscle tone, gross motor skills, and balance. They may have had negative experience in physical education (PE) classes at school that turned them away from exercise because of fear or embarrassment. Add in sensory challenges such as the sound of barbells clanging or locker room odors, and it can be difficult to entice someone into starting a new workout program. Even if they were interested, how could you find the right place to work out that would fit within your busy schedule and have caring, qualified trainers that have experience working with youth and adults in the autism population?
Meet Ryan Lockard, founder of Specialty Athletic Training. Ryan is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (NSCA) and a Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist (ISSA). He has over a decade of experience working with youth and adults with special needs and has over 10,000 hours of 1:1 instruction. It was a young teenager who introduced Ryan to the world of autism, and who continues to be the inspiration behind Specialty Athletic Training.
Ryan, tell us about Specialty Athletic Training.
In 2007, I began working with a 13-year-old boy with autism as his 1:1 aide. I recognized that the expectations were set lower for him in comparison to his peers, especially in the physical activity realm. He would become visually agitated during PE class within the first 5 - 10 minutes of the warm-up. When I asked what was wrong, he responded, “I don’t want to run because I don’t want to sweat.”
No-one had ever asked him why he was becoming agitated and just assumed that he didn’t want to exercise. After further discussion, he didn’t want to sweat because it freaked him out. No one had ever explained to him WHY his body sweats. This was the aha moment.
I began to do my research and did not find anyone in the country providing the services aimed toward training this population, although adults and children with disabilities have an increased risk of becoming obese compared to their peers (58% & 38% respectively). After playing football in Europe for three seasons and working with a couple of other families, I decided to take the leap and founded Specialty Athletic Training on June 12th, 2012. Since then, we have worked with over 250 different individuals of various ages (4 - 63) and disabilities.
Where do you offer your athletic training services?
We have three locations in the Portland metro area. • Southwest Portland - Lewis & Clark College • Southeast Portland - Ironside Training • Vancouver, WA - Stephen’s Place
Stephen’s Place is Specialty Athletic Training’s newest location and provides an opportunity for youth and adults in the Vancouver, WA and Clark County area the opportunity to exercise while parents relax in the warm and inviting living area of this beautiful independent apartment community designed for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Is there a typical workout or are they all customized?
Most of our clients have had a negative experience with exercise in the past and may seem unmotivated. We aim to change that by providing a fun and friendly environment where they are able to enjoy themselves and feel supported.
We offer individual and small group training. We work with clients of all ages and various diagnoses. They all have their own unique interests, needs and goals, which we tailor their exercise program around. Each individual program is customized with all of these things in mind, along with client input.
What kind of qualifications do trainers have?
In partnership with Lewis and Clark College, Specialty Athletic Training has set up an internship program for students that have an interest in working with the special needs community. In looking for interns and trainers, we first start with their passion for fitness, add in a willingness to learn about the special needs community and top that with being able to be moldable and willing to learn. We end up with a staff willing to ask questions and listen to our clients and their parents to develop a program that will make fitness a priority in their lives for years to come. We are proud to share that all our trainers are certified as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and/ or as a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT). Clients and parents know that they or their child will be getting the very best of care because our trainers are dedicated to providing a fitness workout that is customized to each client’s needs.
Who are some of your trainers?
Andrew Traver is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He joined the Specialty Athletic Training family in 2012 as a Peer Mentor and has worked with clients of varying ages and ability levels. He has become a client favorite and is now the Lead Trainer at our Southwest Portland location.
Emily Hatch is a Certified Personal Trainer who trains clients at our Southwest Portland and Vancouver facilities. She values relationship-building and the opportunity to mentor others. Stephen’s Place residents and staff think she is awesome.
Do you have any client stories you’d like to share?
Cameron began working with Specialty Athletic Training in 2013. His mom shares, “I had read about Ryan’s program and was curious to explore exercise programs that fit our son Cameron’s needs. I met with Ryan and was excited to move forward with Cameron’s participation in Specialty Athletic Training. Cameron had always participated in general education PE classes with teachers who modified as needed. We wanted Cameron to learn exercise and workout routines that would support a healthy lifestyle into and during adulthood. He needed more than the traditional group games that PE tends to promote and don’t really complement his disability.”
“Cameron has loved training with Ryan and his staff since day one! He looks forward to every session. He has become more confident in his exercise routine and overall health. He says he loves the way his muscles feel after a workout! Cameron thrives in the safe, supportive & loving atmosphere that is provided by all the staff. He has learned exercise is not only beneficial to your health but fun!”
What do you see for the future of Specialty Athletic Training?
We will continue to provide top-notch personal training for our community as well as partner with other community leaders to provide an inclusive healthy living experience. In the very near future, we will be offering nutrition workshops with a local meal prep company, Fit Kitchen Direct, as well as launching our online training program. We continue to hear the need for our services outside of the Portland/Vancouver area. Our plans are to expand to other cities on the west coast as well.
(since this article was published, Specialty Athletic Training added other facilities in Bend, OR & Hillsboro, OR)
As featured on www.stephensplace.org
Fitness FAQ of the WeekI often receive emails from personal trainers asking for exercise tips that would help them train a new client that has autism. Here are some tips and things to remember:
1. Program design process stays the same – People are looking for a personal trainer because they are seeking something a little extra in their exercise routine. They want individual attention to help them meet their fitness goals, something that they cannot get in a group fitness class or in a school’s P.E. class. They all will come to you with different reasons for wanting a personal trainer and it is your job to create a program for them that is INDIVIDUALIZED to their needs and goals. Your program design process is the same for all clients, neurotypical or autistic.
2. Variety in communication – Individuals with autism are often very literal in their ways of thinking, so it is important that you communicate in a very clear, concise manner when describing the workout and giving instructions about how to perform the exercises. These instructions should include oral instruction accompanied by visual instruction as well. I will make a list of the exercises that we are going to perform during the workout, demonstrate the exercise while giving oral instruction, and then do the exercise along with my client. Depending on my client’s needs, I may also break down each exercise in a 3 step picture sequence along with a visual countdown of repetitions remaining.
Your client may also have processing delays. Make sure to give them time to process the information that you are giving them and be patient. Eye contact may be limited or non existent as well, and that is OK!
Be precise, clear, and ready to communicate in a variety of ways depending on your client’s needs.
3. The weight room sensory experience – Weight rooms can be a living hell for an autistic individual, so LISTEN to your client. Many of our clients have sensory issues and experience the world around them very differently than their neurotypical peers. Loud sounds, strong smells, too many people can all lead to a negative experience. If your client says that it is too loud or that they are feeling anxious because of the crowd, then take the workout to a different room or outside if it is a nice day. You need to earn their trust and respect before you can try and gradually stretch their comfort zones.
They might not understand why their body acts in a certain way while exercising.
“Ryan, my heart feels like it’s coming out of my chest.” “My legs, they feel weak.” “My legs feel like Jell-O.” “My arms feel like they are burning.”
These are all things that I have had clients tell me. These are all physical sensations that we experience from exercising. Listen to your clients and explain how their body works and why they are feeling like that. Tell them that their heart rate increases during exercise because of your body’s need to increase blood flow. Explain to them how to calculate their maximum heart rate and find their target heart rate. You are not only a personal trainer, but a teacher as well. Teach your clients how to exercise and take care of their bodies, but also teach them how their bodies work and why they are experiencing the physical sensations.
DIFFERENT NOT LESS
When training any client you must address their individual needs and goals. With an autistic client, those needs may include communication, processing, and sensory differences compared to your neurotypical clients. However, their bodies and muscles still work the same. There is a saying, “If you have met ONE person with autism, then you have met ONE person with autism.” Every one of your clients will have different needs. It is your job to be able to listen to those needs and help them get their body moving and help them live a healthy lifestyle.
The above tips may or may not apply to your client, but I hope they are useful. Remember that there are no magic exercises for training this population, just a need for equal respect and open ears.
About the Author
Ryan Lockard, CSCS, CSPS is the founder and head trainer of Specialty Athletic Training and is accredited by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and a Certified Special Populations Specialist. He is a member of the board of directors for the Autism Society of America, Central Oregon Disability Support Network, as well as the Lewis & Clark College Board of Alumni.