When Robert was three years old, he was diagnosed with autism. His family found speech and occupational therapy that supported him through his earlier years, but things started to change when Robert was in 7th grade. At that point, Robert was really growing, and his therapists were no longer able to accommodate a lot of the physical activities that had been part of his therapy sessions. When therapy was no longer part of his schedule, he started having meltdowns—-screaming, yelling, and hitting walls or members of his family and hurting himself.
His mother, Jennifer, describes a few difficult years during which Robert really needed additional support, but the family didn’t know where to turn. When Robert was 15, they attended a Halloween carnival for individuals with special needs, where they connected with Daniel and Trinity at a booth for Special Strong.
“I was skeptical at that point in my life,” said Jennifer. “I asked if they could handle somebody like Robert, who was probably about six feet tall at the time, and Daniel assured me they could, but I was used to people realizing quickly that they couldn’t. That was seven years ago. We gave it a try and it’s been the very best thing we’ve ever done for our child.”
It gave him an outlet for his energy. It gave him something to turn his frustrations into. It gave him confidence and changed his demeanor.
When Robert started with Special Strong, he was still hurting himself through his physical behavior as he tried to cope with everyday frustrations. His trainer, Daniel, helped Robert channel his frustrations into more productive coping mechanisms. Daniel taught Robert to recognize when he was beginning to feel frustrated and choose a more productive way than hitting to release that energy. Robert learned to identify these negative feelings and then choose to do jumping jacks or push-ups, or find another outlet for his feelings.
It’s a strategy that he carried out of the gym and continues to use on a daily basis. Even today, he has a list of strategies he can use when needed. As a result, Robert’s entire family can now do things they wouldn’t have been able to in the past.
“We can do things that we never used to be able to do,” said Jennifer. “We can leave the house and I’m not worried about whether he’s going to have a meltdown while we’re out at the store; and if so, how am I going to handle it? I can now talk to him now beforehand. He carries a backpack with him and he keeps those strategies and he knows that there are other things he can do instead of hitting.”
Among his accomplishments, Robert recently took his first trip on an airplane. The family had not previously felt comfortable traveling with him confined to such a small space surrounded by crowds, but their trip was a success. Using the strategies Daniel had helped him put into place, Robert was able to manage any frustrations and loved his trip.
“I’m happier for everybody in our house. There’s not as much stress or angst or frustration. There was a time that we were always on guard or frustrated but never really happy. We’re a lot more relaxed and happy now than we used to be.”
Working with Special Strong for the last several years, Robert has also become much physically healthier. He’s lost weight, put on muscle, and has increased his strength tremendously. Robert was recently able to do a 385-pound deadlift. He was also able to leg press with plates totaling over a thousand pounds. He’s put on at least 30-40 pounds of lean muscle.
As his trainer, Daniel proudly remembers the day Robert came in after a doctor’s appointment with a perfect bill of health for the first time.
“That’s part of what we do here. That’s evidence of the work that Robert has put in.”
Robert’s efforts have even inspired his family to start eating healthier and improving their own overall health, with his mom and dad losing 90 and 50 pounds each, respectively. “You want to be healthy so you can be there for your kid for the long run. It’s very motivating,” said Jennifer.
These days, Robert keeps an active lifestyle, playing basketball, soccer, and softball. He just joined a bowling team and is excited for other opportunities that might be available to him.
Since starting Special Strong, Robert’s finished school, he’s finished speech therapy, and he’s finished behavior therapy. But he says he’s not finished with Special Strong.
“It’s not something you just go to for a few sessions and then you’re done,” said Jennifer. “Daniel has such a meaningful relationship with the people that he works with. He really truly cares for each individual and you can tell that through his actions. He’s come to Robert’s birthday parties. He prays with him to help calm him down and refocus. He’s a part of his life, and not just on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It’s a true blessing.”
If you would like to learn more about owning a rewarding Special Strong franchise, we encourage you to reach out to us today for more information.