WEST ROXBURY, Mass. (WBZ NewsRadio) — Most people agree that exercise is good for you, but for people who are neurodivergent, gyms can be an overwhelming and scary place.
That is why Greg Austin of Framingham decided to quit his job as a corporate executive and open Inclusive Fitness -- a fitness center in West Roxbury geared specifically for people with autism, Down syndrome or other disorders that may include dealing with sensory overload.
"[The gym is] quiet -- even the paint was chosen specifically to be calming," Austin said. "The lighting is all dimmable LED so it doesn't have any sound to it, [it] has the right frequency. We have window films so that there's not things that are distracting from the outside."
Austin said he was inspired to open the center by his son Lucas, who has autism.
"If we did a good exercise program with him -- or a big hike or a swim -- we noticed that he was like a completely different person," Austin said.
Austin added that there are more than 500 fitness centers in the Boston area -- but none that address the needs of his clients -- even though there are tens of thousands of people with autism in the state.
"They may be overwhelmed by a lot of noise, by a lot of crowds, they may be overwhelmed by things that they might see outside of the windows, TV screens, lots of people who are doing a class for example," he said.
All clients who train out of Inclusive Fitness, some of whom are non-verbal, are referred to as "athletes" -- as Austin said he wants to remind his trainees of the importance of positive self-talk and determination.
"[One client] looked at me and he said 'I'm an athlete?' and I said 'well yeah -- you're doing jumps, you're doing overhead presses, you're doing all these things that Tom Brady does, right?' and he said 'I am you're right!' and he got the biggest grin on his face and he realized that he is," Austin said.
WBZ NewsRadio's Suzanne Sausville (@wbzsausville) reports.