Programs for Neurodivergent Athletes

Just as we have developed protocols to help our neurodivergent athletes, we have developed programs and courses to implement them. When parents hear we use movement and fitness to help their neurodivergent minor and adult children live better, fuller lives, they may understandably expect their child to start our programs on day one in a typical gym setting. That is a recipe for failure because most neurodivergent individuals cannot cope with the chaos and overstimulation of a typical gym, at least not at first.

We strive to give our athletes the foundation and tools to succeed at each step of their journey to a more fulfilling life. Our programs include three elements, each described in the sections below.

Diagram illustrating the process flow of a Divergent Fitness program.
Staff and certification trainee discuss protocols and programs

Assessment

The assessment process involves a discussion of your neurodivergent child’s current situation. Participants include parents, the child, and a qualified Divergent Fitness trainer. We make a special effort to include your child from the beginning and talk with them rather than about them.

The Assessment Objective: To understand where your child is today, what improvements they and you want to see, and what neurodivergent conditions we will address during their participation as one of our athletes.

Fitness and Movement

The three (3) phases of this element address somatic errors interfering with your child’s ability to live a more fulfilling and enjoyable life. We begin by developing an understanding of how your child sees the world and creating an environment of trust and comfort. We have found that beginning with one-on-one training produces the best results because our athlete receives the trainer’s sole attention.

Phase 1 Objective

Creating certainty in the environment for the most afferent students.

At the appropriate time, we move from private to semi-private training sessions. Here the objectives include increasing your child’s comfort performing tasks with another individual present either as a workout buddy or simply training in parallel. Semi-private training allows your child to practice skills semi-autonomously with the safety net of a trainer right alongside.

Phase 2 Objective

Increasing distress tolerance to build resiliency and learn how to come back from stress.

The final developmental step takes the athlete to a small group setting where 2 to 3 of our athletes train independently, following the instructions of the Divergent Fitness trainer given to the group. However, individual instruction, coaching, and encouragement are just a step away if needed. It is remarkable to see what each athlete can do in a group setting. You knew your child was capable of more, and they have proven you right.

Phase 3 Objective

Performance/specialization – applying fitness and movement to real world experiences.

Divergent Fitness athlete shooting baskets
Small group training session

Optional Coursework Modules

Yes, you read the title correctly, “Coursework.” During the Assessment process, we will look for conditions resulting from anxiety and nutritional challenges. If necessary, we will provide essential foundational tools in one or both of two areas: Anxiety Management and Understanding the Neurological Impact of Nutrition.

Anxiety Management

Many of our athletes experience anxiety when entering any new environment. This anxiety manifests itself in two ways: panic attacks or autistic burnout. When life becomes overwhelming, their learned coping responses fail them, and they “retreat into their own emotional cave,” unable to participate in their daily routines.

Even neurotypical individuals occasionally head for their cave to recharge and get back to normal life. For your neurodivergent child, it is even more complicated. So, the first course teaches you and your child how to manage these episodes, minimize “cave time” or other non-beneficial responses, and return them to their daily routine as soon as possible.

  • The Anxiety Management Course Objective: Teach our athletes and their parents practical coping tools to manage anxiety or autistic burnout.
  • Training format: Online modules with a virtual component with a trainer via Zoom or similar technology.
  • Duration: 6 weeks
We start most new athletes in a one-on-one setting
Healthy foods like these support proper nutrition

Understanding the Neurological Impact of Nutrition

It may not seem intuitive, but how our bodies absorb and process macronutrients from eating impacts the nervous system and how we react to our environment. This course takes a different approach from counting calories, carbs, and portion control. We have broken the course into three modules, or steps:

  • Understanding food’s impact
  • Sleep
  • Interoception

Parasympathetic and Sympathetic States

We start the Nutrition course by teaching how the nervous system works with the macronutrients we get from our food.
Our aim has nothing to do with weight or muscle gain. Instead, it provides instructions about how to regulate the nervous system with the proper digestion of food and when to consume different types of food.

First, a tiny bit of science…

We talk a lot about two kinds of states your body can be in: Parasympathetic and Sympathetic, both of which can influence your body’s ability to digest food properly.

  • Parasympathetic basically is a state where your body is at rest and in a more social state. In this state, blood can be diverted more towards your digestive organs for proper digestion.
  • Sympathetic means “action imminent,” so blood is more diverted towards your musculoskeletal system to prepare your what’s to come…and away from your digestive system.
Two athletes perform stretching exercises under the guidance of a trainer and trainee

To illustrate the difference, let us talk about two neurotypical individuals who are identical in every respect, down to their DNA. However, their environments are significantly different.

Person A comes home from a day at a job they love to a spouse, children, and pets they also love. They enter a calm, collected, orderly world by walking through the door. They consume 100 grams of protein for dinner, which their body efficiently metabolizes.

In other words, they digest their food normally because they are in a parasympathetic state.

Person B’s world could not be more different: They hate their job and their jerk of a boss. When they walk into their home, they encounter chaos and disorganization. The kids are fighting, the dog’s barking and their spouse has retreated into their own cave. For dinner, Person B consumes an identical 100 grams of protein. However, their body does not absorb the food properly because they are in a sympathetic state. This poor digestion impacts sleep, mood, behavior, and well-being.

In this situation, Person B ingests the foot without fully digesting the food.

What you eat, when you eat, and what state you are in at the time have significant neurological impacts and how individuals react to situations and changes in their environment. In this module of the Nutrition course, we give you the tools to use nutrition to enhance your child’s responses to their environment.

The Sleep Module

When we sleep better, we restore our body’s natural rhythms. Better sleep provides better physical and mental recovery, and better brain function. We will teach you and your child how to sleep better and enjoy the attendant benefits.

Using a smartphone in bed interrupts normal sleep patterns
Trainer working with neurodivergent individual one-on-one.

Interoception Module

Finally, we address interoception, one of six additional “senses” the body uses to manage itself in the environment. According to an Interesting Facts article, people have widely variable awareness of their body’s inner signals. These “messages” inform us regarding the state and condition of our bodies. For example, when we’re feeling hungry, full, or need to go to the bathroom.

Neurodivergent individuals often have a lower awareness of these signals, or misinterpret them. For example, Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) sometimes need to be reminded to eat, resulting in body dysregulation. When there is a lot of body dysregulation, it is hard for a neurodivergent individual to understand when they are hungry rather than in pain. We will help you learn how to clarify the body’s inner signals about food, other nervous system signals, and behavior towards food.

  • The Nutrition Course Objective: To teach our athletes and their parents how to correctly interpret the body’s internal signals about food, how to maximize the absorption of macronutrients, and how to improve sleep.
  • Training format: Online modules with a virtual component with a trainer via Zoom or similar technology.
  • Duration: 6 weeks

Getting Started

If you are ready to involve your neurodivergent child and yourself in the Divergent Fitness journey to a more fulfilling life for everyone, please fill out our Assessment Form to schedule a time with one of Divergent Fitness’s specialists. Or give us a call at (805) 900-0299 to learn more first. We look forward to speaking with you and your child.

Divergent Fitness trainer helps athlete work through movement exercises while a parent watches

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