FIRST-OF-ITS-KIND FITNESS CLASS FOR NORFOLK
A sport and fitness centre in North Norfolk is launching a pioneering fitness class which will be the first of its kind in the area and, it is believed, the first in England.
The initiative is designed to enable people with Asperger’s syndrome, a type of autism, to take part in exercise activities. The campaigners leading the project say they also have older people in mind who are put off regular classes because they are too brash, busy or noisy.
Sheringham Splash Leisure & Fitness Centre is following North Norfolk District Council’s (NNDC’s) Sports Clubs and Hubs initiative, which has been delivering a range of sporting and exercise activities to encourage older and younger people who find using ordinary sports facilities difficult.
The Splash class will be suitable for everyone, but it is being developed with the particular needs of people with Asperger’s syndrome in mind.
“It’ll be just like a regular, fun exercise class,” says Stuart Jardine, Contract Manager for Places for People Leisure which runs several fitness centres across Norfolk, including Sheringham, Fakenham Sports & Fitness Centre and Victory Swim & Fitness Centre in North Walsham. “But we’re making sure the sensory environment the classes are held in won’t distress people on the spectrum. People with Asperger’s and autism often can’t cope with loud music, or crowded spaces, and this stops them being able to take part in fitness activities. We want to overcome that and hope people on the spectrum – and everyone else - will come and join us.”
Mr Jardine has been working with Sheringham autism campaigner Clare Smith, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome four years ago.
“My disability is ‘invisible’ and people have difficulty believing it’s a problem, because I seem so ordinary,” says Clare Smith, “but I’m 60, I’m healthy and I want very much to keep fit. I swim but that gets lonely, and I haven’t been able to find an upbeat fitness class I can cope with.”
Mr Jardine explained that Asperger’s is a type of high-functioning autism and like others on the autism spectrum, people with Asperger’s are often hyper-sensitive to sound, smell, sight and touch.
“People with Asperger’s are usually exceptionally bright and don’t often have major physical disabilities. But the difficulties caused by their autism mean, for example, they have problems making out speech when there’s background noise. So Clare sometimes can’t hear our instructors over the music we play to energise participants.”
“And I can’t cope with being so close to people in the popular classes,” Mrs Smith adds.
Mrs Smith raised the problems with Splash in Sheringham, her local sports
centre. It’s run on behalf of the council by Places for People Leisure. Both
organisations want all local people to be able to reach their sporting and
fitness potential, despite any disabilities they might have or if getting
older discourages them.
Mr Jardine plans to make the gym autism-friendly when the new fitness class is running. “They’re lowering the background music and reducing whatever other distractions they can,” says Mrs Smith. “It’s so easy to make it possible for Aspies to be included.”
“This is a fantastic idea,” says Cllr Maggie Prior, NNDC’s Portfolio Holder for Health and Wellbeing. “The council has a responsibility to support people with disabilities and this is an excellent way of including a group of people who too often get overlooked.”
The Aspie-friendly fitness classes will start during the last week of May. To book a place or for further details please contact Splash Sheringham:
01263 825675 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Please download our questionnaire and return it to us, to enable us to
discover what is required in the community -