President and Founder
President and Founder
As a Fitness Coordinator at a school for children with autism, Coach Dave experienced first-hand the challenges of teaching exercise. By understanding that students with autism learn differently, he developed a system that has become a breakthrough in effectively teaching exercise. Nine universities have incorporated his program into their Adapted Physical Education and Special Education Programs. As a pioneer in the field, Dave gives his insightful and inspiring presentations around the world, including, Egypt, Dubai, Barbados, Russia and Canada. Coach Dave is also a published author, writes Autism & Exercise research articles, and has a TV Show “Coach Dave” on the Autism Channel.
Coach Dave graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in Health Promotion. He is a Certified Exercise Physiologist from the American College of Sports Medicine and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist from the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is a former assistant strength and conditioning coach for the University of Iowa Football Program and co-founder/President of Right Fit. He is also a member of the State of Illinois Autism Taskforce.
As a former special education teacher, Amber was tasked with her district’s daily requirement of teaching 10 minutes of physical activity in the classroom. Knowing the proven benefits of exercise and movement, Amber proactively added physical activity into classroom management and instruction. Supported with evidence based practices, Amber successfully embedded physical activity through kinesthetic learning, reinforcement, behavior management, and structured movement breaks. This is where Amber experienced firsthand the power exercise and movement has on students’ learning and development.
As VP at Exercise Connection, Amber‘s expertise helps to develop inclusive exercise solutions that support student achievement and teacher effectiveness. Amber is an engaging and sought-after speaker at conferences and guest lectures around the world. Additionally, Amber co-authored the chapter Special Considerations for Neurodevelopmental Disorders for the 2nd Edition of ACSM’s Exercise, Testing and Prescription book. Amber‘s experience and leadership have been critical in creating more effective specialized programs at Exercise Connection.
Meet Mary, highly skilled physical therapist and parent of an autistic adult male. Coach Dave first met Mary when she and her husband called to see if he would considered training their autistic son, Anthony. At the time, Anthony was 13 years old and did not want to exercise. Mary observed many of Dave’s exercise sessions and challenged his techniques and philosophy, given her background as a physical therapist. As she began to see Anthony transform and engage in exercise, she began to embrace the Exercise Connection philosophy. Throughout these sessions, Dave and Mary had many invaluable conversations with Mary‘s extensive background as a school-based physical therapist and insights as a mother of an autistic son playing a crucial role in shaping the Exercise Connection mission and vision. Mary officially joined Exercise Connection as a key team member contributing to the development of autism inclusive exercise programs, including the Exercise Buddy app as well as co-building the Autism Exercise Specialist Certificate.
Autism Exercise Specialist
Tom has been working with those with autism and other special needs for over 10 years. In addition to leading the Exercise Connection classes at the North Suburban YMCA (NSYMCA). Also at the NSYMCA Tom is the Special Services lead instructor and Head Coach for their Special Olympics Swim Team. Tom has transformed the lives of many of his students.
Tom has a Bachelors Degree in Psychology/Child Development from Western Illinois and is currently completing a Masters Degree in School Psychology at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Tom is also preparing for the ACSM Certified Inclusive Fitness Trainer Certification.
Noel is a currently a student at Giant Steps and will soon be transitioning to District 203; he is very excited. He has been working as an EC Champion since May building Visual Exercise System's. Noel enjoys his job and the most challenging part is to get him to stop working. He has built Systems for the North Suburban YMCA, Helping Hands and Miner School.
Speech Language Pathologist
Licensed Speech Language Pathologist
Jessica began her career as a paraprofessional in the high school program at Giant Steps, a school for children with autism. This is also where she first met Coach Dave. Using what she had learned from her Bachelors Degree in Speech and Hearing Sciences, she was able to assist with speech therapy sessions.
After three years at Giant Steps she was ready to further her career and was accepted in the Masters Program for Speech and Language at St. Xavier University. She graduated in 2013 and now serves as a Licensed Speech-Language Pathologist at an elementary school in Lombard, IL.
With the EC, Jessica assists in the development of ExerciseBuddy and she has helped develop the EC presentation; Language Development through Exercise. But her toughest job, by far, is managing her now husband, Coach Dave.
Adapted Physical Education Specialist
Adapted Physical Education Specialist
Cam Lesslie, M.A, is a recent graduate of Chico State's Masters APE program. While earning his degree he was also an APE teacher in Northern California. Cam is helping to update the Exercise Connection Inclusive PE/APE Curriculum. Look for the curriculum in the fall of 2022!
Branding & Design Specialist
Growing up with a brother on the spectrum, Jack grew a deep understanding and respect for businesses and non-profits involved in disability services. After being involved at a young age in various programs and charities, Jack grew his involvement through employment opportunities with organizations such as Western DuPage Special Recreation Association, PROVAIL, and Autism Speaks.
While working in disability services, Jack went to school for Design, with a focus on branding and marketing. Jack looks forward to utilizing his skills in branding (alongside his long-term passions for disability equity and services) to emphasize the vision and mission of Exercise Connection and grow EC's messaging to a wider audience.
Jake began with Exercise Connection as an intern helping to create the Assessment Video Models for Exercise Buddy. As he completed his degree from the University of Iowa, he shifted his focus from Health Sciences to Graphic Design. As Marketing Manager, Jake will use his talents in design to plan to execute marketing campaigns that communicate the Exercise Connection mission and enhance the lives of those on the spectrum and their families.
Dr. Boudreaux is a research scholar cross-trained between the disciplines of exercise physiology and physical activity epidemiology. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. His primary research explores the associations between the 24-Hour Activity Cycle (behaviors that include sleep, sedentary behavior, light physical activity, and moderate to vigorous physical activity) and human health. His secondary interest includes the application of consumer wearable devices to promote positive healthy behaviors. As an individual diagnosed with Autism and Type 1 Diabetes, Dr. Boudreaux advocates for how exercise is a life-changer for those with autism and improve quality of life for those with Type 1 Diabetes.
Michelle Smith has been a clinician since 2002. She holds a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, is a clinical exercise physiologist and registered massage therapist. She spent the first half of her clinical career as an exercise therapist. During this time, Michelle was involved in many facets of musculoskeletal rehabilitation exercise programming, personal training, and group fitness class instruction. Michelle has also worked in chronic disease management where she assisted in the creation of rural cardiac rehabilitation and chronic disease management programs. In 2014 Michelle left her role as an exercise therapist and became a registered massage therapist. Michelle is currently operating a solo massage therapy practice and is an instructor for a massage therapy school. Michelle is autistic and is the parent of an autistic teen.
Richard Cotton, retired National Director of Certification for ACSM, is the Project Manager for the Autism Exercise Specialist Certificate. He is excited to have a role in making a positive impact in the autism community. He earned a master's degree in exercise science from San Diego State University, in San Diego, California. He is an ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist, and serves as the Preventive and Rehabilitative Program Director.
He's also served as a wellness coach and industry consultant, and is considered an expert industry resource by major media outlets, including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. He's also appeared on broadcast shows and networks such as ABC's Good Morning America, Dateline NBC, and CNN.
Dr. Piletic is a Graduate Professor of Kinesiology in the Kinesiology Department of Western Illinois University (WIU). She earned her Ph.D. from Texas Women’s University in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Adapted Physical Activity.
SHAPE America recognized Dr. Piletic’s community-based motor clinic at WIU as the “Outstanding Program for Adapted Physical Activity.” Dr. Piletic has written multiple publications and presented around the world about adapted physical activity.
Dr. Piletic asked Coach Dave to be part of her program by lecturing to WIU students about autism and made ExerciseBuddy part of the curriculum because of its numerous evidence-based practices.
Dr. Laura Bassette is an Assistant Professor of Applied Behavior Analysis/Autism in the Special Education Department at Ball State University. Prior to Ball State, Dr. Bassette earned her Ph.D. in Special Education from Purdue University and completed a post-doctoral fellowship with an emphasis in severe disabilities at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.
Dr. Bassette previously worked as a behavior analyst for adolescents and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. Dr. Bassette’s research explores how technology can support the implementation of behavioral interventions to teach academic and life skills to students with disabilities through socially valid community engaged projects.
Dr. Bassette is currently conducting several research projects exploring the positive impact of ExerciseBuddy as a component of behavioral interventions to improve physical activity in adolescents and young adults with autism spectrum disorders and developmental disabilities.
Dr. Edelson is the Director of the Autism Research Institute and has been active in the field of autism for over 30 years. Dr. Edelson received his Master’s and Doctorate degrees in Experimental Psychology at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.
Dr. Edelson has conducted autism research in a variety of areas comprising behavior, sensory issues, and cognition; he has published peer-reviewed research articles with many notables in the autism field, including Drs. Bernard Rimland, Ivar Lovaas, Temple Grandin, and Margaret Bauman.
Dr. Edelson is impressed and encouraged with the research and progress exercise is having on the autism community.
Our inclusive visuals and video models were created with the help of our Exercise Buddies. Nothing is more inspiring than being led by peers!
Flexing and exercising his muscles was not always Anthony’s first choice but thanks to the inspiration of his Dad's regular exercise routine, he decided to give it a chance.
Anthony began working out in his basement at 13 years old, ten years after being diagnosed with autism. It was a challenge to make it a part of his routine but experiencing gains in his muscular strength kept him curious for more. His love of Batman and superheroes is what kept him motivated and the occasional comic book at the end of the session from Coach Dave.
Today, 17 years old, Anthony uses his strength at his first job at Mariano’s. You can also catch him on the Coach Dave Show and at autism conferences, selling products for the EC and talking with others about the benefits of exercise.
At 18 months old, Rachel lost her ability to speak and was diagnosed with autism. Who knew that she would now be presenting across the country sharing her story.
Rachel doesn’t remember too much growing up but she will tell you that movement played an important part in her physical and cognitive development. At 14 years old, she was reluctant to exercise and when she did, would only wear her school uniform and slip-on shoes. Her dog, Fleur, was her motivator to exercise and today is still apart of her workouts.
Now, 18 years old, Rachel is dressed in exercise gear with newfound hope and optimism. She recently graduated from high school and is excited to see what the next four years can bring. If you want to learn more about Rachel you can catch her on the Coach Dave Show.
At 25 years old, Bill had difficulty catching a baseball. And having played softball for the last four summers this was unacceptable for Coach Dave.
Diagnosed with asperger syndrome and suffering from seizures, professionals and coaches may have been timid to challenge him. Well, challenge was exactly what he needed. Through exercise, Bill has not only increased his muscular strength and coordination but can now catch two balls while balancing on a stability ball! Something most high-level athletes can’t do.
Bill, a die-hard Cubs fan, is an inspiration for many adults because of his “never give up” attitude. Bill is a graduate of Elgin Community College and has been working at Meijer’s for the last four years, along with co-hosting the Coach Dave Show.
When Coach Dave was teaching Max exercise and how to lead a healthier lifestyle, he found out that Max had a passion for film and videos. At that time Max was still in high school but Dave encouraged him to pursue film in College.
Max, a high school graduate, is currently studying Film/Video Production at the College of DuPage is now creating the videos for ExerciseBuddy. The Assessment Videos he created are now being used within research at Texas Womens University for ExerciseBuddy.
Max also works part-time at Hart Schaffner Marx creating video-models for their autism employment program. And while still balancing college and work, Max kept with a healthy lifestyle and lost over 30 pounds in 2016.