Training and Children with Autism

About the Author: Eric Cressey

It’s been a while since my last newsletter, but it’s good to be back on track. My girlfriend and I took a few extra days down in Fort Lauderdale after the New Year to clear our heads going into what will be a busy three months until all my baseball guys are back in season. Believe it or not, it didn’t break 70°F during our five days down there, and neither of us came even close to a tan. Fortunately, we had lifting heavy stuff as a way to fill our time. Anyway, let’s get to what’s new for 2008…

CEUs Now Available

It took Mike Robertson a ton of paperwork, but most of our products are now accredited by the NSCA for continuing education units. While many certifying bodies are charging anywhere from $13-$15 per contact hour, all of our CEU’s are available for $10 or less per contact hour. Those products included:

-Building the Efficient Athlete: 1.2 CEUs for $60, or $4.16/CEU

-Magnificent Mobility: 0.1 for $10

-Inside-Out: 0.2 for $18, or $9/CEU

-Bulletproof Knees: 0.4 for $30, or $7.50/CEU

If you purchased your product directly from us, you should have already received an email about this. If, however, you purchased one of these products through one of our vendors (T-Nation, EliteFTS, Perform Better, or London Kettlebells), please just drop us an email at with the subject line: CEUs.

New Article

For those of you who missed it, It Looked Good on Paper was published at T-Nation at the end of December.

Beyond Boundaries: An interview with Eric Chessen

I thought it would be great to kick off the new year on the right foot by looking at a friend and colleague of mine who is doing something very special. I recognize that this particular topic might not appeal to everyone on our newsletter list, but I would love for you to check it out nonetheless, as chances are that you know someone who it could help tremendously. Eric has made a world of difference in the lives of many kids who have autism, and given a lot of parents hope amidst a lot of struggles with their autistic children. If you know someone who could benefit from this, please pass along the link to this interview.

Eric Chessen is a fitness therapist and consultant working exclusively with the young autism population. The founder of Theraplay-NY and creator of the DVD Beyond Boundaries: Fitness for the Young Autism Population, Eric has made it his mission to bring fitness into the lives of individuals on the autism spectrum.

Cressey: I know you, but our readers don’t; can you tell us a bit about your background?

Chessen: Well, I am a fitness therapist and consultant working exclusively with young individuals on the autism spectrum. In addition to being a fitness professional, I am currently completing my Master’s in exercise physiology and working to obtain certification as a behavior analyst.

Cressey: How did you get involved in all that?

Chessen: I had been working in a commercial gym for a short while with a general population clientele. At the time, this was around seven years ago, I was not quite sure where I wanted to be from a career perspective. I had a classmate who worked in an educational program for young adults with autism. She knew of my fitness background and asked if I would be interested in working with some of the students. At the time I did have some experience working with the special needs and autism populations. I worked in various summer camp programs for individuals with developmental disabilities, and always found the experiences both challenging and quite fascinating. I began working with the program in NYC, a satellite education program originating from Johns Hopkins, and five years later I am still with them.

Cressey: Many people have heard of autism, but don’t necessarily understand the specifics of the disorder; can you tell us a little bit more about it?

Chessen: Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder that affects an estimated 1 in 155 children in the U.S. While individuals with autism vary in their functional capacity, the core features of the disorder include poor social skills, deficits in verbal and non-verbal communication, and inhibited play and leisure skills.

Autism is often referred to as a “spectrum disorder” because there is such a wide range of functioning between diagnosed individuals. Some individuals with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome may be indistinguishable from normally functioning peers the vast majority of the time, but have some difficulty reading social cues or interacting with others. Individuals on the low functioning end of the spectrum may be non-verbal, have severe cognitive deficits, and self-injurious or aggressive towards others. Fortunately, advocacy groups such as the Autism Society of America and Autism Speaks, among many others, are beginning to erode the stereotype of all individuals with autism “being like Rain Man.”

Cressey: Where does exercise come into the equation?

Chessen: As we know in the fitness profession, exercise and physical health are not exclusive concept applicable to only one group. Exercise benefits every human being. In addition to cognitive and social deficits, there is a wealth of research suggesting that a gross motor deficit exists in many young individuals with autism. In fact, the authors of a recently published study suggested that apparent deficits in gross motor patterning are not included in the diagnosis of autism simply because no conclusive definition for “gross motor deficit” has been established.

The benefits for the autism population are not only corrective, but can have so much impact on their ability to socialize, to master daily living skills, to develop self-esteem, and for future goal-setting. Similar to what has happened with normal-functioning youth in the U.S., fitness for individuals with developmental disorders has been largely ignored. That is why I’ve devoted my career, in addition to working with my athletes, to educating parents, teachers, and therapists about the importance of incorporating exercise into the lives of these kids.

Cressey: How do you even begin an exercise program with a kid on the autism spectrum?

Chessen: The methodology that I’ve been developing combines exercise with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). ABA is, in short, a teaching and therapy strategy based on the work of B.F. Skinner, who pioneered behaviorism. ABA teaches concrete associations between behaviors or actions and consequences. For examples, you get the answers correct on a test, you get a good grade. You practice your deadlift technique, and your deadlift goes up. ABA has been a very successful strategy for modifying maladaptive behaviors and teaching everything from life skills to, in my case, exercise, to individuals with autism. Essentially, I break whole movements down into smaller, easier to learn skills and gradually the athlete learns to complete the movement correctly and independently.

Cressey: What you’re doing is obviously very specialized; you don’t hear about many fitness experts in the autism community. Are there any other fitness groups currently working with the autism population?

Chessen: Very few, if any. It is interesting when you consider that whenever a fitness certification group or course covers “special populations” they are typically referring to the triumvirate of clients with diabetes, heart conditions, and the elderly. I’ve yet to see a certification group cover fitness issues pertaining to individuals with developmental disabilities. Of course, you do not see too many young individuals with autism in commercial gyms or even youth programs. They current fitness culture in the country is relatively exclusive in that respect.

Cressey: And this is where you come in! Tell us about the DVD you recently released.

Chessen: Yes. My goal right now is to create as much awareness about the importance of exercise and physical fitness for individuals with autism as I can. In addition to writing for several of the leading autism publications, a radio show on, and presenting at conferences around the country, I wanted parents and educators to have the ability to create and implement exercise programs at home and in the classroom.

These efforts led to the creation of my first DVD, Beyond Boundaries: Fitness for the Young Autism Population. Because individuals with autism vary in their abilities so greatly, I did not produce the DVD as a follow-along type of program. Rather, I introduce the exercise in sequence, and show the viewer how they can be taught safely, correctly, and with individual mastery in mind.

Cressey: Where can people go for more info on the DVD and the rest of your work?

Chessen: The DVD is available now at I can also be reached via email at

That’ll do it for this week. We’ll be back next week with plenty of new content.

All the Best,