GLENS FALLS — Taylor Jurnak walked along a winding balance beam and asked 15-year-old Noah Howarth to do the same.
“Show me your balance now,” Jurnak said. “Show me your balance.”
Noah’s mother, Kristin Howarth, said this is the time in her life she should be dropping Noah and his twin brother Gavin off at various sports practices. But her boys are on the autism spectrum, which limits their choices of athletic activities.
“Typically developing 15-year-olds would be in sports leagues or rec leagues,” she said. “They’d be getting probably anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes of physical exercise a day, which is really what’s needed. And they’re not getting that.”
Howarth, the director of the Upstate New York Autism Alliance, has teamed up with 32Fit Gym in Glens Falls, which is now offering Fit Kids Camp, structured for children on the autism spectrum. Classes are held at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday or 11:30 a.m. Saturday and cost $10 a class.
The classes focus on leg strength and plyometrics, said Jurnak, co-owner of 32Fit. The kids work on balance, stabilizing muscle groups, cardiovascular health and hand-eye coordination.
Jurnak has worked at the gym for about six years, but became co-owner about three months ago. He became aware of the need for the Fit Kids Camp while working out with Howarth’s husband, Jesse, and gym member Pat Imbimbo, who has grandchildren on the spectrum.
The class offers physical activity for autistic kids who otherwise might be spending their time in more sedentary ways at home in front of screens.
Jurnak said he has gained more out of the experience than the kids have, as he learned how to communicate with them.
“They’re all very, very aware, even if it doesn’t appear that way,” he said. “Most of the time they know what you’re saying, they know what you want from them a lot of the time. Can they act on the message? Maybe not necessarily. Do they know what you’re saying? Yes.”
Parents can also work out alongside their children. Natalie Raymond pedaled the exercise bike while her son, Gavin, 9, worked out with Jurnak for the first time on Saturday.
“It’s so awesome,” Raymond said. “I like working out myself.”
Andrew Paolano, an adult who has Asperger’s Syndrome, volunteers to help the kids work out and to encourage them.
“I never had anything like this when I was a kid, and I would have loved it,” Paolano said, “both for the exercise aspect of it and for socializing as well.”
New sensory gyms are popping up in the Albany area, but this is the first one in the Glens Falls region, Howarth said.
She has noticed that Gavin’s sleeping problems have diminished since he started getting more exercise.
“We’ve tried melatonin, we’ve tried medication for sleep, we’ve tried as much physical exercise as we can provide at home,” she said, “but since we’ve been doing this class, he’s been sleeping great.”
She and her husband have always hoped they could attend a gym as a family, but bigger, busier gyms were never an option.
Additional information can be found at www.upstatenyautism.org or by calling 518-791-2703.
“Everybody’s body craves physical activity,” Howarth said. “Some of our kids are at a disadvantage because they can’t do those organized sports. And they need that for healthy growth.”
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