Melissa Pangelinan HeadshotSchool of Kinesiology Associate Professor Melissa Pangelinan, director of the Pediatric Movement and Physical Activity Lab, has been awarded a grant from Autism Speaks. The award is part of the Norma and Malcom Baker Recreation Grants program, which helps fund non-profit and for-profit organizations that serve people with autism, their caregivers and families, teachers, therapists, and neurotypical peers.

The focus of the Baker Recreational Grants is threefold: to promote local services that enhance the lives of those affected by autism spectrum disorders, to expand the capacity to effectively serve the ASD community, and to increase the field of national service providers.

Specifically, Pangelinan will receive $4,964 to improve the quality of training programs through the Adaptive Training Academy to enable greater access and safe participation in CrossFit for adolescents and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD.

“We are thrilled to be supported by Autism Speaks for this work,” Pangelinan said. “By providing training to local CrossFit coaches, we will enable sustainability and community integration of adapted programming for those in the Auburn-Opelika community.”

Pangelinan said there are two portions of the project. First, her team will run a local adapted CrossFit program for adolescents and adults ages 15 years and older with ASD. The participants will do two sessions per week for 10 weeks.

“We will measure the impact of the program on instructor outcomes (including knowledge, skills, and interest working with the Autistic community) and participant outcomes (including body composition, physical fitness, mental health, and exercise enjoyment and motivation). We will begin this program in the summer and are currently recruiting participants and coaches,” Pangelinan said.

The second portion of the project is a hybrid two-day workshop in partnership with the Adaptive Training Academy with 20 coaches from around the country. The purpose of the workshop is to increase coach knowledge and skills-implementing best practices for working with individuals with ASD.

“We will work with coaches to address barriers they face at their facility to increase capacity and improve delivery of CrossFit classes for individuals with ASD. We are currently recruiting coaches for this program,” said Pangelinan. “Moreover, the workshop will enable us to improve the quality of coach training and enhance participation of the broader Autistic community in health-enhancing physical activity.”

This grant builds on Pangelinan’s 2021 Tiger Giving Day Campaign for which more than $31,000 was raised to enable undergraduate and graduate students to gain certifications to become adapted fitness trainers and provide group fitness and personal training services across the state of Alabama.

Miranda Nobles