Chicago fitness guru designs exercises to put kids with special needs on the move

With more than half of the children with autism spectrum disorder she sees overweight, special needs fitness guru Suzanne Gray decided she needed to do what she could to get these kids moving.

She says many of the kids she encounters have poor posture and muscle tone and are scared to move because of bad experiences on the playground or in physical education class. She found herself wondering what the extra weight would mean as they get older.

“The need for these kids to be on a structured fun program, from what I can see, is absolutely essential,” says Gray, mom of four boys, owner of Right Fit Sports Fitness Wellness in Willowbrook and author of 101 Games and Activities for Youth with Autism.

She urges parents to get on the floor or outside exercising with their kids because, she says, it’s good for them, too.

While all 101 exercises in the book won’t work for every child, Gray says parents will find at least half that work for their child. Here are a few simple exercises to get you started:

Raise the Bar

Raise the Bar is one exercise I like to introduce because of its simplicity to integrate in the child’s daily life.

You’ll need a 2-foot 1-inch dowel rod. With your child, personalize with stickers, paint, etc. (NOTE: The child in the photo has added a resistance band to the stick.)

Place feet shoulder-width apart (place two marks where left and right foot should be placed); grip stick with palms facing down, shoulder-width apart. Arms extended in front for initial starting position, raise over the head to full extension and lower back down to initial starting position.

Recite the chant: “Raise the Bar! You’re a Star! Raise the Bar! You’ll Go Far!”

Hoop Parade

Ever find yourself running in circles playing a game of chase with your child? Try this simple solution: The Hula Hoop is a parent’s child catcher, mover and spinner.

You’ll need a Hula Hoop.

Grip Hula Hoop with overhand grip. Child may stand inside or outside the Hula Hoop; adult provides verbal cue,”Ready! March!” and pulls the child forward, walking briskly for 10 or more yards.

Variations: Hula Hoop Capture, Hula Hoop Run, Hula Hoop Carry and Lift (carry and grip with two hands raising hoop up and down to touch toes), Hula Hoop Roll (roll hoop back and forth with a partner) and Hula Hoop Throw (throw hoop back and forth with partner).

Ready, set, go!

Rather than commanding a child to run around a track, add in this key component: Shout “Ready! Set! GOOOOOO!!” and begin with a shorter distance such as a 20-yard dash to get them excited enough to give it a go.

You’ll need an area to move and cones or objects for visual start and stop.

Place visual cues or cones for both a starting and stopping position and line up. Adult can hold child’s left or right hand and provide verbal cue, “Ready! Set! Go!” and run, skip, hop or shuffle for 20 yards or more forward, backward or sideways until you reach stopping position.

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