Tyler training center hosting autism awareness event

TYLER — Autism awareness and personal fitness will collide in a positive way at LifeFit Training Center on Saturday in Tyler.

The training center opted to be one of the many hosts for the autism awareness event called Lift Up Autism. Individuals who want to take part, can do so under the guidance of trainer and part-time owner Skylar Schwartz.

“We’re really excited, especially being a small town, to be able to bring some awareness to the community,” Schwartz said. “Through the Lift Up Autism site, you see how much more common autism is, yet at the same time, it’s surprising how so many people don’t know much about it. Even for me, I feel like it’s more recent that I’ve learned about it and how important it is to bring that awareness.”

While the training center has hosted a memorial workout twice, this marks the first time LifeFit has hosted the autism event.

“A lot of CrossFit gyms are doing this, but you can also be an average gym and host it,” Schwartz said. “They sent me information on how to prepare everyone and set things up. As long as you’ve been a coach and have been training a lot of the movements, it’s easy to put on. People who have never even (worked out) can even come in and participate. If a person can’t do the specific movement, we have these other options so you can participate.”

Early Childhood Special Education teacher Anna Hess was instrumental in helping spark the gym’s participation in the global event.

“I work with kids with autism on a daily basis,” said Hess, who serves the Tracy District through the Southwest West Central Service Cooperative. “I have an Early childhood special education degree and early childhood autism license and I also enjoy doing CrossFit, so it’s a good fit. I started pestering Skylar, and he signed up the gym.”

There is no cost to participate in the Lift Up Autism event, unless a person chooses to purchase a T-shirt or donate money to the cause, and gym membership is not required to participate.

“When I registered, I paid the fee for the T-shirt because $10 of it goes to the Foundation,” Hess said. “If you just want to come and raise awareness, it’s free. It’s about creating awareness — getting the word out about autism.”

In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) reported that approximately 1 in 68 children in the United States has been identified with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

“This is my 11th year, and over the years, I’ve had kids that are quite high functioning and some more toward the non-verbal end. I’ve also had a variety of kids in the middle of the spectrum and everywhere in between.”

Hess pointed out that autism is a neurological disorder, though research hasn’t really identified what causes it.

“There’s something in the brain that is affected,” she said. “They questioned whether there was a link between vaccines, but that wasn’t proven. I don’t think they know what causes it, but it can affect anybody. And oftentimes, there’s kids with autism in a class and people don’t even know it because they are functioning at a high level.”

Josh Everett, TrainHeroic and the CrossFit community rallied together in 2013 to create the worldwide workout event.

“Josh Everett is a big CrossFit trainer and his son, Luke, was diagnosed with autism a few years back,” Schwartz said. “They created the workout and named it after Luke.”

Hess said the workout is roughly 5 minutes, but that it’s “pretty intense.” Those who aren’t able to handle that caliber of a workout shouldn’t be deterred, however, because alternative workout movements can be substituted.

“With all of our training, we’re trying to prepare people for life in general,” Schwartz said. “We try to teach people functional fitness — for what’s in the gym and what’s outside the gym. We have some farmers who come in, and by doing the training we do, they can do a lot of work now that they didn’t used to be able to do.”

The local gym focuses on helping get people moving. Once that happens, they work on helping them move well.

“We’ve got the jack-of-all-trades coming in, so we train with a lot of different movements,” Schwartz said.”

Some of the people who will be participating on Saturday have trained in all of the specific movements, but others have not.

“The ones who have trained for this one specific workout, we’ll do once a year,” Schwartz said. “The goal is, for those who do it this year, to go through the workout next year and see if they got better. For those who have never done the workout before, it gives them the chance to participate and then they can prepare for the next year. That’s the neat part of it.”

LifeFit Training Center is located along Main Street in Tyler.

Hess said she’s a busy teacher whose husband is a farmer. Together, they have four children.

“It’s a nice way to stay healthy,” she said about the workouts. “It’s one thing I do for me. It’s really neat that our community has this to offer.”

Another reason Hess is a strong advocate is because she has a friend whose child has autism.

“It’s important to have awareness to help get rid of the stigma,” Hess said. “Not everyone with autism is like the person you see in ‘Rain Man.’ Many kids are higher functioning.”

Most of the children Hess works with have individualized education programs (IEPs).

“You have to meet an educational criteria to get services,” she said. “Seeing those kids grow, it’s amazing. They do show progress.”

Hess said mainstream education is extremely valuable.

“Inclusion is something I believe is so important,” she said. “The kids I work with learn so much by being in the classroom. Some of the kids are non-verbal, but they’re still learning from their peers. We’re learning more about autism and we’re developing more strategies to teach those kids than when it was first known.”

Some children with autism have issues with clothing and textures.

“I have a student who can’t stand tags on shirts,” Hess said. “Parents and people who work with kids are more aware of that nowadays. It didn’t used to be a well-known fact associated with autism.”

Loud noises, including the sound of a toilet flushing, are also offensive to many kids with autism. Fortunately, technology advancements, including headphones, have helped.

“It makes it tougher because a lot of kids have things in their environment that affect them,” Hess said.

There are now devices that can help non-verbal students communicate.

“It helps them express what they want to,” Hess said. “There are a lot of cool tools that we had no idea about 5-10 years ago. It helps to have a variety of tools in our toolbox because kids with autism are changing, too — what works one day might not work the next.”

Other strides being made include diagnosing autism at an earlier age.

“Some show signs by 9 months old,” Hess said. “A lot of times, it’s between ages 3-5 or even younger. It didn’t used to be that soon. But we’re learning more and we’re able to get interventions earlier. That’s good because autism affects a lot of kids and families.”