I have worked with children, teens, and young adults with developmental disabilities for many years, and I am thankful that this issue of Kol HaBirah focuses on some of the struggles facing these individuals in their efforts to be included in everyday activities, such as fitness. I want to specifically focus on the new program I created with the help of my colleague, David Shrank, LCSW, to address the needs of populations with developmental disabilities by combining the disciplines of psychotherapy and fitness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines developmental disabilities as “a group of conditions due to an impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas.” This can create difficulty in places like most gyms, where the structure is not designed to address the challenges of those with special needs.
The top priorities in creating a safe environment are to understand the need for structure, support, and a good helping of patience. Combining the disciplines of psychotherapy and fitness means a connection between the mind and body for an overall wellness program. The psychotherapy addresses coping with the cues and triggers, and understanding what to do with the emotions the client feels. A psychotherapist can also collaborate with psychiatrists to find the best medications for a client. Fitness helps to moderate stress and energy levels, manage metabolic levels, and increase neurotransmitter activity associated with tolerating pain and other receptors. One of our goals for the future is to create inclusive group exercise classes to reduce triggers while offering activity in a social environment, which can also mitigate feelings of isolation.
The goal is to always be there for the client and his/her family. It is our hope that we can be a part of the safety net for the most vulnerable in our community and consistently create ways to increase overall health and stability while empowering and guiding people to experience success.
By Justin Walls