Three people standing in a room with exercise equipment around them. A young man is holding a basketball on the left. Coach Dave is showing him how many times to throw the ball on dry erase board. A young girl stands to the right in the photo waiting for the basketball to be thrown.

Exercise Connection Spotlight

By David Geslak, President and Founder at Exercise Connection

When did Exercise Connection start?    

Exercise Connection started in 2010.

Where are you located?

La Grange, Illinois.

How many employees do you have?

We have a multidisciplinary team of 12 employees & volunteer advisors.

What do you all do?

Our mission at Exercise Connection is to break down the barriers to physical activity and exercise for individuals on the autism spectrum and related disabilities. Through research-supported systems, we empower professionals and caregivers to provide effective specialized instruction designed to support diverse learning needs and equip children and adults to lead healthy and active lifestyles, enhancing overall well-being, function and quality of life. Our goal is to create more inclusive exercise environments, schools and communities worldwide.

Tell us a success story.

Early on in my career, I thought I would have the ability to lead every person with autism to make the exercise connection. But I quickly learned the only way I could do that was by learning more, building a team with diverse perspectives and sharing that knowledge with educators, fitness professionals and parents.

The first story I want to share is about Kristen Kmack, who created Maur Movement after earning her ACSM/Exercise Connection Autism Exercise Specialist Certificate. I recently had a chance to visit her facility and meet the clients and families she has been impacting. She has over 40 sessions a week and her clients keep growing. Kristin is building something special in Albany, New York, and impacting so many.

The other story success story started right as the US was shutting down because of the pandemic. Sana Ghawas flew from Bahrain to the US in March 2020 to earn her ACSM/EC Autism Exercise Specialist Certificate in Atlanta. Thankfully, she made it home, and soon after she returned, she started Wonder Fitness a specialized fitness center for individuals with autism in Bahrain. In 2022, I had the opportunity to visit Wonder Fitness and also meet some of the clients and families she has been impacting. In a region of the world that doesn’t fully embrace those with disabilities, it was an amazing experience.

Kristin and Sana are the driving forces behind what they have built, and to know Exercise Connection played a small role is why the EC team and I wake up every day.

Tell us about the video series. When did it start? Why is it so popular? Do you have a favorite video?

The Autism Exercise video series started in 2015 because both Exercise Connection and NCHPAD wanted to provide evidence-based strategies so practitioners and caregivers could help their autistic clients or children in a variety of physical activity settings. At that time, there was not a lot of information available.

Over the years, we have heard from people all over the world, and they say it is so valuable because we are not only sharing evidence-based strategies with field-tested exercises but that the videos also involve individuals with autism. 

It was a long few days of making those 30 videos, and each one holds a special place in my heart. That said, I think Episode 6, “Teach the Body Parts to Promote Exercise” is one of my favorites. A few reasons why: When I first started working with Roan, not only did he not want to exercise but he also had very limited language. In this video, Roan takes the lead during the activity and it makes me smile every time I watch it. Secondly, I like this video because what we are trying to teach the viewer is foundational to exercise and often not done in our schools – unless the practitioners have earned their Autism Exercise Specialist Certificate