This past spring, the special needs department at the New Canaan YMCA launched a new program designed to promote healthy living habits to young adults with special needs. On June 2, six young adults with Autism ranging from 18-21 years old celebrated completing the 10-week program.

Launched as an extension of the youth special needs department at the Y, which supports nearly 100 families who have children with special needs, the healthy living program was created to serve as an age-appropriate class for this growing group within the community of young adults with special needs. The program was designed to build independence among the participants, socialize with peers and to add healthy components to each of their individual routines.

Each class began with a group warm-up including weights and steps, followed by 20 minutes of cardio in the Y's Wellness Center, where participants joined other Y members on the treadmills and recumbent bikes. The workout then finished with strength training exercises. Following each workout, Alyssa Mackenzie, whose sister participated in the program, taught the group how to prepare a different healthy snack each week including smoothies and pita pizza.

"One of the most important things for individuals with Autism is establishing a routine. It has been great to watch all of our participants fall nicely into their fitness routines and we have seen each of them develop a greater sense of independence," director of special needs programming at the New Canaan YMCA, Carolynn Kaufman, said. "Nothing is better than watching a confident young woman leave her parents at our entrance as she runs to her class." She added, "Many of these young adults ability to communicate maybe impaired, but they are very capable of being physically and socially active. There aren't many places for them to go and be active and the Y serves as this place."

The fitness portion of the program was overseen by Lavina Paschkes, a Personal Trainer at the Y.

"I think it's important for everyone to eat right and exercise regularly, and it is especially important to introduce healthy habits to our young people as soon as possible," Paschkes said. "I enjoyed working with this class; when they mastered a skill and smile, it made my day."

The New Canaan YMCA provides both inclusive and specialized programs for individuals with special needs and their families. To learn more about programs and support available, contact Carolynn Kaufman at 203-966-4528, ext. 156 or

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