Keira McNeil has always loved being active, so when the pandemic started it was important to find new ways for Keira, who is 14 and on the autism spectrum, to keep her body moving and try out new skills and activities. When Keira’s mother Stephanie heard about the new program from GoodLife Kids Foundation, MOVE, she signed Keira up.
MOVE by GoodLife Kids is a physical activity program for youth aged 12-21 with intellectual disabilities and/or autism. Lead by a Coach, youth and their caregivers join small group fitness sessions on Zoom from their homes.
“I heard about it through Keira’s school, Janus Academy. There were a few students taking part. At first, I worried that Keira wouldn’t be able to focus on a screen for long. She had trouble staying focused when school went online early in the pandemic, but the sessions are so much fun and constantly changing. Keira was engaged the whole time.”
Coach Ryan Staines leads MOVE fitness classes three evenings a week. Keira takes part in all three, joined by one of her family members each time. They stretch and do cardio, bodyweight resistance exercises, yoga and even some meditation at the end. The MOVE program is exclusively designed for participants with intellectual disabilities or autism, to challenge and motivate them at their speed.
“We don’t have any requirements for coordination or endurance, just join in and do your best. We design the exercise moves and stretches to be appropriate for the participants and to encourage family members to join in. It’s creative and fun, and helps build healthy habits in the teens taking part, but also in their parents and siblings too,” Coach Ryan explained.
Stephanie says a big part of why Keira loves the MOVE program is because she gets to exercise with her mom and dad, and sometimes one of her two older siblings.
“She’s so excited to be doing it with us. Sometimes she just comes over and gives me a kiss in the middle of the workout. She’s just thrilled we can do something together,” said Stephanie. “Her favourite parts of the MOVE program are ‘the floor is lava,’ ‘invent your own yoga pose’ and ‘frog jumps.’”
MOVE has improved Keira’s physical literacy, as she has, over the weeks, learned to do several different simple exercises for a total body workout (arms, legs, core). The workouts can be done safely and in a home environment with little need for any special equipment. Stephanie adds they learn some new material every week, but still have old exercises and a predictable routine so it is not overwhelming or stressful, yet encourages some flexibility of thought and activities.
Stephanie explains Keira has a regular exercise outfit and a dedicated meditation pillow, bought specially for the MOVE classes.
“When I say, let’s get ready for fitness, she immediately runs upstairs, and changes into her preferred workout clothes, gets her meditation pillow that we got specially for MOVE, blanket, stretchy bands and extra pillows in case we play the “floor is lava”, and then she proceeds to tell me what we will be doing in the next hour with our coaches Ryan and Morgan – running, skipping, dancing, jumping jacks, stretchy pulls, Russian twists, frog jumps.”
Since starting the MOVE program, Stephanie says she often finds Keira exercising on her own to music, even when she’s not in class.
“Exercise is an activity she can do independently, and that’s a huge thing for her. I’m really pleased to see her developing healthy habits that she enjoys and can do on her own. That’s a great life skill.”