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)
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 and the Central Oregon Disability Support Network.