Quality of Life Equals Fitness Plus Fun

Posted on August 8, 2010

The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation Addresses Health and Wellness for Adults on the Spectrum (From Autism Advocate)

Not surprisingly, adults with developmental challenges, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), are even more at risk for these diseases because they often lead sedentary lives, take medications that increase weight gain and do not often have access to recreational exercise. In communities throughout the United States, baseball, bowling, basketball and soccer programs for children with ASD are thriving. Recreational activities that promote fitness, such as horseback riding, swimming, yoga, rock climbing and even ice hockey, are creating wonderful opportunities for children on the autism spectrum to stay fit and socialize. For adults with ASD, however, the fitness ball has been dropped. The Daniel Jordan Fiddle (DJF) Foundation has picked up that ball and is running with it.

“We focus on collaboratively developing programs that enhance all aspects of adult life,” says Vicki Ofmani, Program Development Chair on the DJF Foundation Board of Trustees. “And then we fund these innovative programs to create opportunities for adults.” Rich Bushnell, board member and DJF’s Grants Management Chair, has helped develop several of the foundation’s camping and recreational programs, and adds that “providing exercise and recreational programs to improve the health and wellness of adults on the spectrum has always been a concentration for us because these activities improve the quality of life for all adults in our society.”

Habitat Fitness Trail
One of the first programs for adults that The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation developed was the building of a wildlife habitat trail by members of Fountain House, an organization that provides support and services for adults affected by bi-polar disorder and other mental illnesses, and Boy Scouts with ASD seeking to get their Eagle Scout rank. In 2009, the trail was refurbished to include exercise stations that enable visitors to get additional benefits to hiking the trail with targeted fitness activities. The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Wildlife Habitat and Fitness Trail was rededicated in May 2010 and represents a unique, collaborative effort in developing and implementing a multifaceted outdoor fitness venue.

FIT Together at the YMCA Program
Another DJF collaborative effort is a program called FIT (Fitness Independence Training) Together at the YMCA that was piloted in the summer of 2009 at the Ridgewood, New Jersey, YMCA. This eight-week fitness/recreation program was run with the supervision of teachers from Alpine Learning Group’s adolescent and adult school program and the Ridgewood YMCA staff, and included one-on-one peer mentors for the six young adult participants with ASD. The participants and their peer mentors met twice per week for four-hour sessions that included aerobics, yoga and free swim periods as well as socialization time. Data was collected on the two female and four male participants to assess their fitness levels, independence and skill levels in the beginning of the program and at the end of the program.

In Phoenix, Arizona, the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center piloted a parallel program, and the results from both programs have been shared with the national YMCA so that other YMCAs around the United States can use these as a blueprint to develop their own fitness/ recreation programs for adults on the spectrum. Both programs are continuing and expanding to include more fitness opportunities that improve overall physical health, social skills and self-esteem through exercise and recreational activities. As an added benefit, the fitness of the peer mentors also improved and family members of the participants could partake of their own fitness activities at the YMCA.

Health and Wellness Model Program at Chapel Haven
In 2010, The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation Signature Programs were launched throughout the United States. These are collaborative partnerships designed to develop, implement and promulgate model programs that can be replicated in communities everywhere. The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation Health and Wellness Program at Chapel Haven, a renowned program for adults with ASD located in New Haven, Connecticut, and Tucson, Arizona, is a comprehensive research project that will examine aspects that might affect the health and wellness of individuals on the spectrum. Primary areas of focus will be decrease in anxiety, increase in self-esteem, attainment of a healthy weight, independent healthy food choices, and independent choices of exercise and activity.

The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation is committed to fostering the ongoing development of this program. “In the true style of venture philanthropy, The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation approached us with the innovative idea of conducting a study to determine what interventions would affect the health and wellness of adults on the autism spectrum,” said Chapel Haven President Betsey Parlato. “No entity has as yet studied this important component of supporting the ASD adult population. When completed, the outcomes of ‘The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation Health and Wellness Program at Chapel Haven’ could have a major impact on the industry that serves adults on the spectrum.”

“An important goal of all of our fitness programs for adults is for the participants to do something they enjoy and have fun doing it,” says Ofmani. “ This is where the wellness component comes in and this is what adds to the quality of a person’s life,” adds Bushnell. DJF programs during the past eight years have enabled this element of choice for adults; programs from horseback riding to bowling to family camping weekends have been part of our adult program portfolio.

The foundation’s holistic approach that honors the individuality of all people affected by ASD is based on the belief that every person deserves the opportunity for a home, a good job and a healthy life. “Through collaborative partnerships, the DJF formula is working to provide new and innovative ways for adults with ASD to stay fit throughout their lives in ways that keep them inspired,” Ofmani says, “and hopefully this will lead to the creation of more opportunities to do so,” she adds.

About the Author: Linda Walder Fiddle, Esq.
Linda Walder Fiddle, Esq., is the founder and Executive Director of The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation, a national autism organization focused on adults. The volunteer-run organization develops, advocates for and funds innovative programs throughout the U.S. that address all aspects of adult life. Ms. Walder Fiddle has been recognized by numerous organizations and national and state legislators for her efforts in changing the face of autism to include adults. For more information, visit www.djfiddlefoundation.org.

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