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Autism program exercises 'from the brain out'

April 18, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Because of medications and lack of physical activity, many kids with autism will gain weight. Sensitivity to light and noise also make it difficult for them to participate in physical education classes or play in schoolyards or parks. Now one local program has found a unique way to exercise their bodies and their brains.

Drew Abelson, 17, was diagnosed with autism at age 2. Now that he's on the brink of adulthood, his mom worries Drew may not be able to take care of himself.

"And with all the medication he was having, he was gaining weight. He wasn't focused," said Nella Abelson, Drew's mother.

"We've got kids that are getting older and they're becoming adults and like, what happens? So much of their self care has a lot to do with what kind of programs we're trying to offer," said behavioral psychologist Dr. Gwen Palafox.

Dr. Palafox says kids on the autism spectrum need different interventions as they age and research shows exercise fertilizes the brain for learning.

So Dr. Palafox and personal trainer David Liston partnered up to create Brain-Body 360 in Pasadena. It's not just a compassionate place for kids to exercise, but a brain-training program that offers more.

"Working executive function, crossing midline, doing exercises that really help these kids," said Liston.

The instruction kids get really challenges their thinking and coordination. People at Brain-Body 360 say they exercise "from the brain out." They give new meaning to the term "cross-training."

"We are creating teachable moments and we're using exercise to prepare the brain to bud as many neurons as possible," said Palafox.

The Brain-Body 360 program started a year and half ago, but some students love it so much they're learning to become coaches themselves.

"And that is where the power of this comes in," said Liston. "The leadership that we are trying to create and what we found is that they're not given this chance anywhere else in life to be leaders."

Drew Abelson finds the classes fun and challenging. His mom says it's made a huge difference in his overall mood and she's confident he's learning the skills to lead an independent life.

"This program helps his self-confidence, it helps his ability to know what to do when he gets out in the community. I believe that this program has really saved my son's life," said Nella.

Athletes are assessed before they start. For now, the exercise classes are not covered by insurance. They range in price from $30 to $45 per session.

BB-360 gets many referrals from the Autism Speaks organization.


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