April is World Autism Month, an opportunity to talk and learn about autism and how it affects people worldwide. Here at GoodLife Fitness, this month holds a special place in our heart: GoodLife Kids Foundation, a cornerstone of GoodLife's community investment work, is dedicated to helping kids with autism and/or intellectual disabilities get active.

For kids with autism and/or intellectual disabilities, the path to getting active isn’t always as simple as joining the local sports team or signing up for lessons around the corner.

These kids often face barriers to physical activity, including a higher cost for adapted programming, a lack of available programs and inaccessible environments. It can be difficult for families to find a program that suits their child’s needs, let alone an affordable one.

Take autism for example. A child with autism is more likely to be obese and inactive than a neurotypical child. There are several potential contributing factors, both physical and non. Kids with autism can have weaker motor skills and can struggle with hand-eye coordination or balance. They often have sensory stimulation issues and social anxiety.

It makes gymnastics in a brightly lit, loud room or swimming lessons in a busy pool packed with other kids nearly impossible. When kids with special needs are in these situations, they might feel inadequate and frustrated, leading to outbursts, stress and anxiety. If they don’t have fun, they’ll be more inclined to skip the physical activity opportunity next time.

That’s why adapted programs are so important. Kids with intellectual disabilities and/or autism may require additional support to be able to participate. More time to learn rules; one-on-one supervision; and modified sports equipment, like softer balls, lower nets and smaller spaces.

If kids with special needs require physical activity, just like everyone else, but are limited with what they can participate in, how can they get the recommended amount of physical activity? How can they lay the groundwork to a healthy life? And how can they learn that physical activity can be fun?

Enter GoodLife Kids Foundation

GoodLife Kids Foundation, a cornerstone of GoodLife's community investment work, is dedicated to helping kids and youth with intellectual disabilities and/or autism thrive through physical activity and fitness. With many community based in-person programs on hold, the foundation is determined to help youth with special needs be active at home.

MOVE by GoodLife Kids is an adapted virtual physical activity and fitness program for youth with intellectual disabilities and/or autism, ages 12 – 21 years. MOVE is offered 3 times a week and led by coaches with expertise in delivering fitness to individuals with special needs. 

GoodLife Kids Foundation introduced MOVE in 2020 to eliminate some of the barriers to participation that youth with special needs face – such as higher cost for adapted programming, lack of available programs to suit individual needs, inaccessible environments, and isolation due to COVID-19. MOVE is being offered at no cost to families, and groups are kept small to ensure each youth gets a personalized and unique experience that works for them. 

Being active is an important part of every child’s healthy development. It helps kids physically – improving their strength, coordination, and flexibility – as well as socially and emotionally. Physical activity can provide opportunities to learn skills and traits like teamwork, empathy, and sharing.

Kids and youth with special needs should have the chance to build healthy, active lives – just like everyone else.