According to the NHS, 1 in every 100 people in the UK lives with autism spectrum condition which covers a range of diagnoses – such as Asperger syndrome – impacting an individual’s social interaction and behaviour.
We spoke to our award-winning member Richard Palmer, who lives with the condition - and a very severe form of obstructive sleep apnoea which can make his heart stop - on why he feels our gym is helping him to become more visible physically, socially and within the local community.
2018 has been a brilliant year for Richard Palmer.
The 54-year-old Tower Hamlets born Ability Bow gym member is now officially an award-winner after being named Trainer of the Year for his outstanding contribution to the Tower Hamlets Autism Service and Community Healthcare Trust.
“To be honest, I can’t take it all in and a significant part of this is thanks to the support given to me given by all at Ability Bow and the confidence I’ve generated,” Richard says.
Working within the Tower Hamlets Autism Service, Richard has been able to implement the knowledge he’s gathered from attending Ability Bow to service professionals.
Richard says: “What’s great about my experience including my autism spectrum condition diagnosis, is I’ve been able to give talks to young psychiatrists about autism spectrum condition and become part of interview panels every two months for the Tower Hamlets Autism Service’s recruitment too, which I never would’ve been able to have done before joining the gym.
“I’ve even done a mock care quality commission audit, so utilising what I’ve learnt about myself and through being at Ability Bow with the team has been invaluable.
“The autism spectrum itself is very wide and people can have a stigma and stereotype when they see someone with the condition, so through the expert by experience trainer role, I’m able to explain my condition as a trainer and how I see the world; as before doing the training and being at Ability Bow, I’ve always felt I’ve been in the world physically, but invisible to many people socially.”
Confidence Through Caring
Being at Ability Bow has really been a life-changing experience for Richard. Referred by an NHS dietician to Ability Bow after confronting a heightened body mass index (BMI) and family history of diabetes, Richard says he ‘wouldn’t have set foot in a gym’ prior to joining our rehab service.
“Being here is amazing, as I’ve had a bad experience in a corporate gym beforehand and it felt very intimidating being alongside people who were very competitive, which also made me feel very isolated”, Richard says.
Living with an autism spectrum condition (diagnosed in 2011) and a life-long severe obstructive sleep apnoea - Richard's airways often become blocked and his heart can stop - Richard says being part of Ability Bow enables him and his own condition to feel more understood.
“Practically, being at Ability Bow has enabled me to manage my weight far better and become more active,” Richard says.
Reaching many fitness goals since attending Ability Bow - based in St Paul’s Church, St Stephen’s Road, just off Roman Road Market - which include losing up to 10 kilos in weight, one of Richard’s biggest achievements since using our specialist service is using the treadmill.
Richard says: “I used to have a significant treadmill aversion because of my motion sickness and it made it really hard to deal with, whereas now thanks to the super support of the Ability Bow trainers - who are professional and caring - I can now ramp up the speed when I use it.”
Also enjoying more local walking and maintaining his blood pressure and BMI more healthily since joining the gym, Richard says attending our Ability Bow gym - which was founded in 2006 and has helped around 4,000 disabled people into exercise - has not only encouraged him to become more active, but for him to interact and develop social confidence with a wide range of people.
“My ability to interact with people generally has really helped by being at Ability Bow, as the community feel and closeness with everyone here including the staff team, empowers me immensely,” Richard adds.
Talking About Small Talk
Albeit, Richard says that given how his condition impacts his own mental as well as physical health, the Manchester Polytechnic (now Manchester Metropolitan University) art and history degree graduate, is keen to raise awareness on the stigma surrounding social conventions with someone diagnosed with autism spectrum condition.
Richard says: “If anyone ever sees me appearing quiet at the gym, I never mean to be rude, it’s just part of living with my condition and a challenge in starting small talk.
“I’d say to anyone who sees me or someone with a similar condition, please feel free to chat; though being here is vastly helping me to improve on this and be more proactive and to enable the stigma towards mental health to change for the better too.
“It's great to raise awareness of things like this for people like myself with this type of concern and to help give insight to others like in my trainer role on areas which may not be as easily understood.”
Fitness In The Family
It’s not just Richard - who's a keen music and football fan who supports local club Leyton Orient - who’s the only member of the Palmer family to use our gym.
His Mum, Helen also attends our third floor gym space and Richard feels proud of her achievements at our specialist service (which provides support to people with conditions ranging from multiple sclerosis and strokes, to hearing impairments and depression) and how it’s aided her ability to manage her anxiety.
“I’m really proud of how my Mum gets to the gym independently and that in itself is motivationally encouraging for her too and when I can, I’m there to help mentally when she needs support outside of the gym and great encouragement and help that people like Patrick, Tony and Si Mohamed (all of Ability Bow’s fully qualified and highly advanced fitness instructors) are able to offer her,” Richard says.
A carer for Helen, Richard sees his Mum twice a week and helps provide her practical support including with shopping, gardening and domestic chores. He feels the gym has also developed his resilience to cope mentally with caring duties and the grief after losing his father in 2013.
Richard says: “While I'm caring, I’m also able to gain great strength from the gym to cope with many situations including family and this really enables my endorphins to increase too.”
Why Richard Recommends Our Gym
Experiencing corporate fitness environments, why does Richard think our Ability Bow gym stands out amidst an increasingly-growing health and wellbeing industry?
Richard says: “I’ve really broken down my autism and mental health stigma since being here and chatting to others, which has also really enabled me to integrate with my community.
“Some gyms can be as I’ve said, intimidating and my autism is instead accepted here which is invaluable.
“Also, as I have various noise sensitivities through my autism spectrum condition, I can adjust really well here, as the gym’s instructors recognise any needs around this and empathise with members.
“Finally, the gym’s personalised approach makes me feel like neurological conditions - ranging from people with brain injuries here to those like myself with autism - can be easily understood and this makes a world of difference.”
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