The Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism is teaming up with Inclusive Fitness, a gym in West Roxbury, Mass., to help minimize the disparity in high-quality athletic training for neurodivergent people.
“Everyone is impacted by this issue in some way,” Greg Austin, owner of Inclusive Fitness, said. “It’s estimated that out of 360 plus million Americans, 40 million people have some form of IDD [Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities]. And if you don’t personally fall into that 40 million, you probably know someone who does.”
Austin said that he and his wife, Kristina, opened Inclusive Fitness, which specializes in strength and conditioning training for neurodivergent people, in October 2020. Its partnership with BC football legend Doug Flutie’s nonprofit organization, The Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism, has created and funded scholarships for families who could not otherwise afford athletic training, he said.
“We’re a business not a nonprofit, and while we’re by no means expensive, we’re also not inexpensive,” he said. “But we want to create access for people who need financial assistance so we can be as accessible as possible while still providing an exceptional product and experience.”
Austin credits his son Lucas, who was diagnosed on the autism spectrum 16 years ago, as the inspiration for the business. When Lucas first got involved in fitness, Austin said that he and his wife were unsure about how well Lucas would be able to ride a bike, swim, or run.
“His diagnosis presented challenges, but my wife and I presumed competence,” Austin said. “It seemed he could do anything if we gave him the right techniques … opportunity, and time.”
Austin credits Lucas’ athletic success to his wife for finding the right instructors.
“Now the kid we thought might not be able to ride can easily go 40 or 50 or more miles over a long weekend on his bike,” Austin said.
According to Austin, an active lifestyle not only made Lucas physically stronger but also more relaxed, attentive, and confident. But while his son thrived, Austin said he witnessed other neurodivergent individuals continue to suffer, lacking accessibility to necessary resources.
Austin said there are over 40,000 gyms nationwide for neurotypical people, but less than 10 equipped for people who are neurodivergent.
“We felt responsible for bridging this gap,” Austin said. “We knew we needed to create opportunities for accessibility to three things for conditioning training, and that is the right place, the right programming, and the right people.”
Austin explained how Inclusive Fitness worked with a specialist who focuses on designing environments for neurodivergent people—the gym implemented details like LED dimmable lighting and window screens to help reduce external visual stimuli.
Austin said the gym uses programming based on the methodology of Eric Chessen, Inclusive Fitness’ director of neuroadaptive training and innovation.
“The program is about meeting the athlete where they are, slowing down the teaching process, and communicating in a way that works for them,” Austin said. “We can work with almost any athlete no matter how complex they may be.”
Inclusive Fitness has experienced significant growth, now holding about 120 sessions per week and employing six specialized coaches, according to Austin.
“It’s exciting how quickly the business has grown,” he said.
Austin said that all donations to Inclusive Fitness go directly to supporting people who need financial aid to get training.
“We’ve already given our first grants to three athletes at a 50/50 split,” Austin said. “Having them pay 50 percent and us pay the other 50 percent provides both accountability and relief.”
In only a couple months, $75,000 has been raised to support neurodivergent people who need financial help to attend the gym, according to Austin.
“We got one corporate sponsor whose anonymous donation buddies were particularly generous,” he said. “These donations will help fund several athletes for months. This money is literally changing their lives.”
Austin also emphasized the ways BC students can help make a change in neurodivergent communities.
“First, acknowledge that it exists,” he said. “You’d be surprised that once you open your eyes, you see it everywhere. It’s just that we’re often blinded to it. Then take some time to get to know people who are neurodivergent. Pay attention to how they’re being supported and start to think about how you can help.”
Featured image courtesy of Inclusive Fitness