New autism-friendly aerobics classes launched at Sheringham

Splash fitness instructor Kate Thomas (centre) puts Sidestrand Hall School students Tom, 18, and Tia

Splash fitness instructor Kate Thomas (centre) puts Sidestrand Hall School students Tom, 18, and Tiarney, 17, through their paces. The Sheringham centre, which already runs sessions for young people with complex needs, is launching a new series of exercise classes for adults with autistic spectrum disorders. Photo: Karen Bethell - Credit: Archant

Staff at Sheringham leisure centre Splash are hoping a new series of low-key aerobics sessions will encourage adults with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) to enjoy the physical and emotional benefits of regular exercise.

Splash fitness instructor Kate Thomas (left) puts Sidestrand Hall School student Tiarney, 17, throug

Splash fitness instructor Kate Thomas (left) puts Sidestrand Hall School student Tiarney, 17, through her paces. The Sheringham centre, which already runs sessions for young people with complex needs, is launching a new series of exercise classes for adults with autistic spectrum disorders. Photo: Karen Bethell - Credit: Archant

With upbeat, low volume music, the stress-free sessions have been designed to take into account the challenges faced by people with autism or Asperger's syndrome.

Stephen Mews, who is general manager at the Weybourne Road centre, said that after the centre ran ASD training courses for gym and poolside staff, he was keen to hold classes for people who might find traditional, fast-paced, high volume sessions difficult.

Splash fitness instructor Kate Thomas (2nd right) puts Sidestrand Hall School students through their

Splash fitness instructor Kate Thomas (2nd right) puts Sidestrand Hall School students through their paces. Photo: Karen Bethell - Credit: Archant

'After speaking to customers, we did feel there was a need in the north Norfolk area,' he explained. 'Regular classes can definitely be off-putting for people with autism and Asperger's, so what we have tried to do is to design classes which are small, where people know what to expect, and which give people more time to follow directions.'

Splash already runs regular studio-based sessions for students with complex needs from Sidestrand Hall School and Sheringham Woodfields School, where groups of teenagers and their teachers are put through their paces by trained instructors.

Seventeen-year-old Sidestrand Hall School student Thomas taking part in an aerobics class at Splash,

Seventeen-year-old Sidestrand Hall School student Thomas taking part in an aerobics class at Splash, Sheringham. The centre, which already runs sessions for young people with complex needs, is launching a new series of exercise classes for adults with autistic spectrum disorders. Photo: Karen Bethell - Credit: Archant


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Those taking part in the new classes will be given a welcome pack with photographs and information about the class instructor and details about exercises.

Splash staff have also created traffic light-style flash cards, so that people with more severe communication problems will be able to let the instructor know if they are finding any aspect of the session too stressful or difficult.

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A quiet room has also been set aside for those needing a break from sessions.

'I think the training really highlighted for us that there are changes we need to make to classes in order for them to be successful for people who need something slightly different,' Mr Mews said. 'We have designed them to be suitable for all abilities and hope that by doing this, we can help more people find a way in to fitness.'

Autism-friendly classes for adults aged 18 and over will run weekly on Tuesdays between midday and 1pm from June 13. Fees are free for centre members or £3.50 for non-members. For more information, or to book, phone 01263 825675.

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