Iowa City gym recognized for autism-friendly fitness classes

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - From CrossFit to yoga with goats, out-of-the-ordinary exercise is popular across the country.

Kids play during a CORSE Spectrum class at Gym-Nest in Iowa City on Aug. 25, 2019. (MARY GREEN/KCRG)

In this same vein, Gym-Nest in Iowa City offers an obstacle course-style fitness class called CORSE Fitness, which stands for “challenging obstacles requiring strength and endurance.”

More recently, the gym also began offering an offshoot of CORSE Fitness, CORSE Spectrum, which is specifically for kids on the autism spectrum and their siblings.

CORSE Spectrum classes are held on Sunday afternoons, and many times, Dina Bishara is there with her two kids, 11-year-old Benjamin, and 8-year-old Josephine.

“They just love feeling welcome and feeling supported and having fun,” she said.

Bishara, a co-founder of the Iowa City Autism Community, said typical fitness classes can sometimes be overwhelming for kids with autism.

“There’s usually a lot of other classes happening at the same time, so it can be loud and feel kind of chaotic, and there can be some safety concerns,” she said.

That’s why Gym-Nest developed the class, which is led by Coach Ryan Pearson.

“I realized that there was a space that could be filled and an environment that we could provide that would help fill that gap,” Pearson said.

Kids come to the gym to bounce, swing and get some exercise, all at their own pace in an otherwise empty gym.

“Frankly, I haven’t heard of anything else, at least in eastern Iowa, like this,” Bishara said.

Some parents say they’ve seen huge progress from their kids, including Tara Dutcher, who brings her son, Atticus, most weekends.

“Before, just being kind of fearful of movement through space,” Dutcher said. “He’s had some really gentle support from Ryan and the other teachers, just challenging himself a little bit more each time.”

“I would love for the kids to be growing in their ability to walk through life more confident, whether it be interactions or just in mobility, movement, strength, and balance,” Pearson added.

More than that, Pearson said he hopes all kids enjoy themselves too.

“I’m looking for them to have as much fun as they can,” he said.

Gym-nest also recently earned an “Autism Friendly Business” certification from the Autism Society of Iowa, which recognizes businesses for being more accessible to kids and adults on the autism spectrum.

“I think it just makes families and autistic adults and children feel good to know people in the community are working to make this community welcoming and accommodating and accepting,” Bishara said.

Pearson said anyone who wants to learn more about CORSE Spectrum classes can drop by on a Sunday afternoon or call the gym at 319-354-5781.