Chatsworth gym for special needs kids, teens helps families learn fitness, coping skills

Tuesday, October 15, 2019
Special-Fit gym helps kids with special needs get fit
A behavioral therapist and fitness expert created a gym designed to help kids with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and more learn fitness and coping skills for everyday life.

CHATSWORTH, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Pushing a sled, box jumping, even throwing sand bags is a typical exercise session for those taking classes at Special-Fit in Chatsworth. But a group of special needs students is also getting life lessons with their workout.

Mike Ramirez, owner of Special-Fit, offers families with special needs a chance to get fit through a unique program.

"Our main goal with fitness is physical literacy. We want our students to engage with the environment as best as they can or in as many ways possible," Ramirez said. "Every movement they do here has to pertain to something they do in the real world. Putting something overhead in a cupboard, putting their clothes away, picking up something off the ground."

Ramirez's team, trained in both fitness and behavioral therapy, work with children and teens in a group or one-on-one setting.

Liz Luviano has been with Special-Fit for five years and especially enjoys working with kids who are the spectrum.

"Their communication is better, their social skills are better, they're stronger, so they're more capable of using their bodies in a bunch of different ways," she said.

Her passion creates progress.

"With one hour, I can really change somebody's life," she said. "I always come in with the mentality that this is going to be the best hour of their day."

Carolyn Pakes' daughter, Alana, had challenging foot issues, but now says her daughter has made great strides.

She feels Special Fit goes beyond fitness.

"This is really a mind-body-strengthening, confidence-building experience for all of the family - not just the student," Pakes said.

Just like any other population, the group is also at risk for inactivity, which can lead to weight gain and diabetes. This is common but not often considered.

"We have a son who has autism and he's been coming here since they started this program," Pepper Russell of North Hills said. "He's not athletically inclined, but if we don't make a concerted effort to have him involved in a program like this, he would be overweight."

Special Fit offers a free assessment to check abilities. Then families can choose one-on-one training, as well as small group sessions.