According to the CDC, one in every 68 children is diagnosed with autism. The developmental disability occurs in people of all races, ethnicities and socioeconomic groups.
On World Autism Day, a local gym teacher is celebrating the unique talents of those with autism through a dance class.
On Mondays at noon you can find Joshuah Neal teaching a special needs dance and fitness class at Lifetime Fitness in Johns Creek. It’s a class he started two years ago after an interaction he had with a guest who has autism.
“We just came up here and started dancing and it became very therapeutic for her and also for me as well,” he said.
During National Autism Awareness Month, Neal is opening up his class to those with disabilities and their caregivers for free.
The class isn’t just for those on the autism spectrum. Samantha Lamonte, who has down syndrome, tried it on Monday.
“I like hip hop and pop,” she told reporter Ashley Thompson.
Lamonte came with her best friend, her older sister.
“It builds for her specifically a sense of community,” said Lisa Lamonte. “We just moved out here a few years ago and so finding a good network of people with special needs that actually are motivated to be a little bit athletic and it adds fun to exercise.”
It’s a class where those with disabilities, whatever they may be are free to be who they are without judgment.
Thirteen-year-old John League has moderate autism. His mom said the class helps him with coordination.
“With John, half the class he just stood there,” said Elaine League. “But when we get home he’s going to talk to me about all the dances and all the songs. He’s absorbing it in. It takes him a lot just to take in what’s going on whether he’s moving or not.”
According to Dr. Leslie Gaskill, one of the most effective treatments for those with autism is exercise.
“Autistic children in general are twice as likely to be overweight and five times as likely to be obese,” she said.
She said exercise offers those with autism much more than just physical benefits.
“For mental alertness, improving attention span, retention span, communication, clarity. Yes – it’s very important.”
The special needs dance class is being offered for free this month. For more information, call 404-303-7797.
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