David Geslak's personal training career has taken him from making stronger men of major college football players to changing the diapers of 16-year-old boys. He has no regrets about the career change.

David Geslak's personal training career has taken him from making stronger men of major college football players to changing the diapers of 16-year-old boys. He has no regrets about the career change. Working in a local gym six years ago, Geslak was introduced to an 8-year-old child with autism, and he has been using exercise to help autistic kids better cope with their environment ever since. He also speaks to groups of exercise specialists and educators in the United States and abroad about his five components of physical fitness for children with autism (body image, posture, motor coordination, muscular fitness and cardiovascular fitness), and will soon publish an instructional manual based on his often painstaking experiences (it once took six months' worth of one-on-one sessions to teach a child how to learn a variation on the jumping jack). Paul Steinbach asked Geslak, 30, about his own personal challenges and rewards.

Q: How did the encounter with Joseph, your first autistic client, come to pass?
A: I used to train his father in a boot camp class. He asked, "Do you think you'd be able to work with my son?" He wanted me to help out with sports, and though he said something was wrong, it didn't matter to me. I said, "Sure." When I saw the boy's motor planning and realized things weren't as efficient as they should be, I wasn't worried about the sports, I was just worried about the motor planning. It took four one-hour sessions, but I taught him to skip forward and back. I was excited. He was really excited. His mom was so excited, and that's what has kept me in this. I still spend time training adults and working with athletes, but my greater mission has been to help these kids.

Q: What does structured exercise do for children with autism?
A: One of the first things parents tell me is that it gives their kids confidence and self-esteem. What's unfortunate is there are usually 30-plus kids in a public school gym class, and most of the time autistic kids are the outcasts - not only because of their behaviors, but sometimes the teachers are lost as to how to teach these children. That's why I try to speak to so many groups and say, "Listen, here's what needs to be in place." It's not easy, but we have to give these kids a chance. I see these children for their capabilities, not their disabilities.

Q: Have you ever struggled with a child to the point where it made you want to quit?
A: I still work as a one-on-one aide with one boy who is very challenged - cerebral palsy, autism, nonverbal. There was a whole week where he was literally chasing me, trying to hit me and hurt me, and I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong. It was a trust thing. He's had a lot of aides in his past; they've come and gone. But for a week, yeah, I was down and out. I would go home teary-eyed: "I'm just trying to help him, and I've tried everything."

Q: During your days as a University of Iowa strength coach, did you ever see a football player display anything close to Joseph's excitement after a training session?
A: No. I have goose bumps right now. Every time I talk about it, it gives me goose bumps. And that's how I know this is what I'm supposed to be doing.

Paul Steinbach is Senior Editor of Athletic Business.
As a mother of a stroke surviving child with Cerebral Palsy and nonverbal- I commend you! Our world is a much better place because of people like you! God Bless you, I can only hope my daughter finds someone in her life who cares as much.
Iam going to share this wonderful article with SDUSD Physical Education Dept. heads. They can forward to all PE and APE teachers. Iam also going to share with the Special Education Dept. at my former school. Well done! On point!
To Brenda McDonald and PEJEAN. I don't know if you will guys will ever see this. I apologize I didn't comment earlier. Brenda...thank you for your comment. It truly means a lot. I wish and pray the best for you daughter and you. PEJEAN. Thanks...spread to all... I continually try to educate others especially in the PE world, many still don't understand the needs of a child with autism. The more you spread the word..the more we can help to make physical activity apart of their lives! thanks so much. David S. Geslak
Thank you! As the mother of an autistic son and has a daughter being assessed as well, I cannot thank you enough for your patience. The school system fails my kids repeatedly academically and they are also failing them physically. He will never be a top athlete, but he loves sports and to be active with his friends and classmates. We need you in Canada's college of Teachers system.
I have been working in the field of behavior therapy (ABA), for over a decade. I love my career, but have been thinking about obtaining a personal training certification to do exactly what you do! It's great to see that you also love what you do. Keep up the good work : )
As a father of an Autistic Child I just wanna say thank you for what you do. I have been working with a few myself and would love to swap routines sometime. Keep up the good work.
David, hi my name is Sean Flanagan and I am currently a high school graduate who will be in college shortly in about 2 weeks and you article is just amazing. When I was 3 years old I was diagnosed with high functioning autism(Asbergers), and I am a dude who is all about fitness and would love one day to teach any type of kid with a physical,mental, or learning disability the skills which I have learned throughout my high school career. Since it's fitness, it would be cardio , and muscular training but I would also love to add in some social training as well. Which can help people able to communicate properly with people at their own local gym and outside in society. All I just want are some tips on becoming a trainer for kids with mental and physical disabilities. Thank you very much Regards, Sean Flanagan