"Free to Be Me" Respite Program

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For almost five years, Advocates’ Autism Alliance of MetroWest has been building a special relationship with Energy Fitness and Gymnastics to provide fitness programs that are specially geared toward children with autism.

Energy Fitness’ 16,000-square-foot facility in Natick has become an ideal space for children on the spectrum to learn gymnastic skills and release energy in a welcoming environment featuring mats, trampolines, bars, beams, and a foam pit. Children especially enjoy crawling through the giant inflatable caterpillar. The adaptive programming provides therapeutic benefits by allowing children on the spectrum to get the sensory input they need, develop spatial awareness, strengthen gross and fine motor skills, and develop social skills.

In partnership with the Autism Alliance, Energy Fitness hosts a monthly respite program, “Free to Be Me,” for DDS-eligible children ages 5 to 11 and staffed by experienced teachers who have worked with children with autism. The three-hour sessions give parents a break from their daily routines as their children have fun running and jumping, playing group games, doing craft projects, watching movies and enjoying dinner together.

While fitness and gymnastics facilities are sometimes reluctant to open up their programs to children with disabilities due to safety and liability concerns, Energy Fitness created its own adaptive/sensory-friendly programming after partnering with the Autism Alliance on a monthly respite program.

“Energy Fitness as a company strives to make families feel at home here,” said Angela Kelly, Adaptive Program Director at Energy Fitness and Gymnastics.  “We do our absolute best to accommodate each and every child’s need in order to make sure this space is one that families feel comfortable coming to.”

“Parents love taking their children to Energy Fitness because this is a judgement-free zone where the kids are allowed to be just that – kids,” said Kelly Gryglewicz, Autism Support Team Advancement Specialist at the Autism Alliance.

Energy Fitness welcomed training for its employees by Autism Alliance staff to ensure they were well-equipped to deal with challenges that may arise when working with children on the autism spectrum. During certain programs, Energy Fitness will rope off equipment for safety reasons, make modifications to the obstacle course, and even move furniture to create a “drive-in” movie experience for children who have had enough activity for the day. All of the adaptive programs take place when the facility is less busy and therefore more sensory friendly.

The fitness programs, which began with the Autism Alliance recognizing a need to support the families it serves, have blossomed into even broader support for children with special needs and their families. Because of this exceptional commitment, Advocates is pleased to recognize Energy Fitness and Gymnastics as a Caring Partner.