Our Story

Exercise Connection uses exercise to enhance the lives of those with autism. We develop evidence-based exercise programs and resources for persons on the autism spectrum and other developmental disabilities, improving their health, function, and quality of life. To better understand our “why”, we recommend reading through the Exercise Connection story. If you have any questions about Exercise Connection, please contact our team today.

group of fitness instructors smiling

The Exercise Connection Story

David Geslak was asked to teach exercise to a boy on the autism spectrum at his first personal training job. After successfully teaching the 9-year old to skip in just four sessions, David was surprised at the parents’ reaction, “We had been trying to get him to skip for two years, thank you!” As a former student assistant strength coach for the University of Iowa Football Program, David never felt the same “making a difference” impact.

As word spread, David began working with more children on the spectrum and continued to witness both physical and emotional breakthroughs. He soon learned that exercise not only impacts the health of those with autism but also improves their self-confidence, social skills, and emotional regulation. To follow his passion for helping the autism community, he entrenched himself at a school for children with autism, Giant Steps, and developed their first fitness program. To transform the lives of more children, adults, and families, David started Exercise Connection in 2009.

David is now recognized as the pioneer for using exercise to improve the lives of those on the autism spectrum. Nine universities have adopted his program into their Adapted Physical Education and Special Education Programs. He has become known for the dynamic presentations that he gives around the world, including in Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Barbados, Russia, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Singapore, and Canada.

Exercise Connection has grown by adding staff with different skill sets and experience in special education. Recognizing the changing needs of their students, they created the first autism employment program that uses exercise as a core component. The autism and special needs communities have embraced the Exercise Connection mission and are especially encouraged by the results. And for the families, exercise is unexpectedly bringing newfound hope and optimism. 

The Exercise Connection Mission

Our mission is to eliminate the barriers to participation in physical activity, movement, and play for those on the autism spectrum and others with diverse learning needs. With our research-supported program, we are equipping dedicated professionals & parents and empowering children & adults to discover a healthy & active lifestyle, improve relationships & social skills, and learn through movement while creating more inclusive exercise environments, schools, and communities around the world. 

2009

The beginning

After 5 years of teaching exercise to those with autism and related disabilities, David Geslak starts Exercise Connection (EC).

2009

2011

Help from Jay Goltz

Chicago entrepreneur, Jay Goltz, reads about the EC mission in Crain’s Chicago Business. Recognizing both the need and opportunity to support those with autism, Jay volunteers to help.

2011

2012

Visual Exercise System

Visual Exercise System (VES) is created to better help physical education teachers and parents teach exercise using evidence-based practices. VES is now distributed worldwide by Gopher Sport.

2012

2013

Nike

Nike invites David to attend an Aspen Institute roundtable discussion to share his experiences about teaching exercise to people with autism.

2013

2014

ExerciseBuddy

David creates ExerciseBuddy, the first and only app-based visual exercise system for the iPad.

2014

2015

The New York Times

Jay is also the lead small business blogger for the New York Times and writes about David’s experience job coaching a client, showcasing the struggles and missed opportunities of successfully hiring and training a neurodiverse workforce.

2015

2015

Hart Schaffner Marx

Hart Schaffner Marx CEO, Doug Williams, reads NYT article and is inspired to make his company autism-ready. Williams hires EC to build an employment program to hire those with autism.

2015

2015

NCHPAD

The National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability (NCHPAD) asks David to create an autism exercise video series. It now has over 300,000 views.

2015

2016

ACSM

David partners with ACSM to create the fitness industry’s first and only accredited Autism Exercise Specialist Certificate.

2016

2017

Autism Workforce

Exercise Connection trademarks their employment division— Autism Workforce (AW).

2017

2018

NYC Department of Education

New York City Public Schools pilot ExerciseBuddy (EB) district-wide. The strategic plan will put EB in the hands of 50,000 students.

2018

2018

Oliver Wyman

Oliver Wyman, one of the world’s largest management consulting firms, contracts with AW to help them hire those with autism. 2018
Oliver Wyman, one of the world’s largest management consulting firms, contracts with AW to help them hire those with autism.

2018

2018

Ivey Business School

Leading neurodiversity employment researcher, Rob Austin, publishes the first case study on the Autism Workforce model

2018

2018

Chicago Innovation Awards

ExerciseBuddy wins a Chicago Innovation Award.

2018

2019

IMEC

Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center partners with AW to leverage the strengths of a neurodiverse workforce helping their clients reduce employee turnover and improve productivity.

2019

About Our Services

At Exercise Connection, we offer exercise options and services for those on the autism spectrum and other developmental disabilities. Our exercise programs are designed by a team of experts with over 25 years of experience in the field of autism and exercise. We offer an inclusive app, Exercise Buddy so that every child we serve can exercise in a way that works for them, along with other evidence-based tools to engage students in physical activity.

In addition to our technology options, we also provide continuing education courses in partnership with the American College of Sports Medicine for teachers, therapists, and health and fitness professionals who are interested in teaching exercise to children with autism. Our accredited certificate provides the tools and resources necessary to teach exercise in a way that is safe and effective for children on the autism spectrum. This program is available for a range of professionals, including:

We also offer consultation services for schools and organizations that are interested in starting an exercise program for children with autism. Our team of experts can help you create a custom exercise program that meets the needs of your students. 

Learn More About the Exercise Connection Story

At Exercise Connection, we believe that exercise can change the lives of children with autism. If you would like to learn more about the Exercise Connection story, please contact us today. We would be happy to share more about our work and how exercise can transform the lives of those on the autism spectrum. 

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