Zachary is a runner. That’s not an uncommon trait for youth with autism. When moments overwhelm, which is often, their first instinct is to flee. That can pose real danger.
The staff at PEP Prentiss Autism Center found a way to transform this challenge into a superpower. They realized running relaxes Zachary, helping him regulate his emotions. Running helps him focus, too. And he’s good at it, so it fuels his confidence.
Now Zachary is a runner in the best sense. Instead of running away from overwhelming situations, he is running toward finish lines. For his parents, standing at the finish line of Zachary’s first 5K brought them to tears. They’re proud of what he’s accomplished. So are the PEP teacher-counselors who set aside time on their days off to run alongside Zachary and other PEP students.
“Running has been a catalyst to get him more engaged in everything,” said David Weiss, an occupational therapist at PEP Prentiss. “Before he started, he was nervous about trying new experiences. Crowds would overwhelm him. Now he’s running races surrounded by thousands of people.”
Zachary is limited verbally, but when you ask him how he feels after a race, his reply is always “happy.” The smile stretching across his face confirms as much.
“From the moment we walked into PEP Prentiss, we knew it was a perfect fit for our son. The staff at PEP are all patient, understanding and caring people who have helped our son tremendously – both socially and academically,” Zachary’s parents, Bob and Sue, said. “Our only regret is that we didn’t find PEP sooner.”
Running is one of the many strengths the staff at PEP Prentiss have helped Zachary build upon – and he’s not alone.
Activities like running are designed to promote a sense of pride in the kids and their parents. Smiles, cheers and even a few tears are typical at PEP Prentiss’ annual football game and basketball skills tournament.
All kids should have opportunities to be a part of a team, to learn to persevere through difficult tasks, to feel joy with others while engaging in a sport, and most importantly, to be filled with pride as they cross a finish line and realize that they accomplished something they didn’t think was possible.