All fitness classes are not created equal.
Heidi and Scott Spencer, from Syracuse, can attest to that. They have searched for activities for their 12-year-old son who has motor skill problems.
A doctor referred them to U-Fit classes at the University of Utah. The class meets every Friday night during the spring and fall semesters.
"He isn't able to participate in gym. (But) you put him in the right environment, and wow, there he is playing catch," said Heidi Spencer. "There isn't anything in Davis County like this that I know of. I look forward to this two hours all week long."
Whether it involves drawing, swimming, playing, even socializing, U-Fit is geared for the special-needs child. Children with mental or physical disorders are welcomed.
"It's an activity program specifically for children with disabilities," said Hester Henderson, director of U-Fit. "We started the program in 2000, and we had 15 children then. Now we have 130 kids."
Each child works exclusively with one of more than 120 college-student volunteers. The child stays with the same volunteer all semester.
The child gets to pick his/her activity for the night.
"The art class generally has three options, and they change every week. They do dance. They do drums. Gym -- we pick a different sport skill or local motor skill to be the theme. Then there are different station activities that they can do around that theme," said Stacy Oswald, parent coordinator for U-Fit.
One week, the focus might be on throwing and catching, and the following week on kicking.
For children with autism, who have difficulty with social skills, the evenings involve just playing with others.
"They don't socialize," Henderson said. "So to put them in a situation where they are next to somebody, doing art projects or throwing the ball to someone -- that's big for them."
Although Henderson started the program for special-needs children, she also learned that parents can benefit as well.
"Four years ago, I did an interview with parents and found out ... areas of stress in their lives. One of them was they couldn't exercise. That was one thing that they were really missing," said Henderson.
So she opened up fitness classes for the parents. They can work with personal trainers in yoga, Pilates or spin classes.
Organizers also opened up a classroom that serves as a lounge for parents to sit and talk. Or, parents can drop their children off and leave for two hours.
"It's the first time for them to get peace and quiet for the week. It's a lot of stress relief for the parents -- and I have seen that across the board," said Ashley Cason, a volunteer from Ogden, who also has two children who attend the classes.
The Spencers find solace in the lounge, where they can have a conversation without worrying about their son. Scott Spencer said the U-Fit classes are their only opportunities to get out as parents. Finding a baby sitter trained to handle problems with disabled children is tough.
"It's hard to find a place that we are comfortable with leaving him with qualified individuals," said Scott Spencer.
As the program has evolved, it has also begun to respond to the needs of the siblings, who can develop problems as well.
Often, the focus of parents is on the child with needs. Heidi Spencer said she has heard the siblings referred to as the "forgotten patients."
In the program, the siblings have a choice -- participate with their brothers or sisters in the activities, or be on their own for the night.
The Spencers' daughter likes to go off and do her own activities.
"(The choice) depends on the family and a lot of it is the severity of the disability. Some of them are really protective and want to watch out for their sibling and always want to be with them. And others really want their space," said Cason, who has one daughter with Tourette's syndrome.
The siblings are assigned their own volunteer, who gives them undivided attention.
"When they have one volunteer that is giving them direct attention for two hours -- they are just soaking it up. They are loving every minute of it," Cason said.
The Spencers said their entire family waits anxiously all week for Friday night.
"Then we can drive back and have a nice, happy weekend," Heidi Spencer said.
The U-Fit program costs $30 per child. Registration begins in August for the fall semester. Parents can use the fitness facilities for free.
For more information, contact 801-581-7994 or email@example.com.