Can one reside on the Autism Spectrum AND become a Les Mills instructor?

Ever since I made the discovery about my autism, I have had many chats with people about the inherent difficulties associated with teaching group fitness whilst residing on the Autism Spectrum. However, it is my opinion that the Les Mills system goes some way to help counter those difficulties.

I am trained in 8 Les Mills programs, namely the following (in order of being trained):

  • BODYJAM
  • BODYVIVE
  • BODYSTEP
  • BODYPUMP
  • SH’BAM
  • CXWORX
  • BODYATTACK
  • BODYBALANCE

Each program has its own set of “rules” and nuances for teaching, referred to in Les Mills language as “essence”. They serve the purpose of giving each program a unique identity, and with that, certain qualities that need to be exhibited by instructors teaching that program. For example, the essence of BODYBALANCE is “calm and centred”, while BODYPUMP is “strong and grounded”. You kinda get my drift here…

So what does this mean for someone like myself who most likely has Aspergers? Well, one of the key elements of teaching a Les Mills program is connection. Now connection can take many forms – connection to the music, to the workout, and just as importantly, to the members in front of you.

For someone with any form of autism, just the very idea of having to say hello to someone you don’t know can send waves of fear through the body. Having to connect with virtual strangers is the LAST thing that any autism sufferer wants to go through. They generally lack the social skills needed to naturally connect with people (unless it is someone that they really trust).

I am no exception to this. I very rarely open up personally to people whom I don’t know, and it’s not so much because I don’t want to – more so that I don’t know HOW. It is not something I was taught as a child, and it is certainly not something that one can apply logic to. My brain thinks like a machine – linearly and sequentially. It needs to analyse things in a certain way to understand what is going on, and when multiple sources of sensory input start to bombard the brain at once, it goes into meltdown (similar to a CPU overheating in a computer when too much information is being rammed down its throat).

One of the things I love about Les Mills is that they apply a methodology to just about EVERYTHING they produce, including how to teach their programs. And for Aspies like myself, we love order and structure as it fits well with our linear way of thinking.

Personally, the program where I feel the most natural and relaxed teaching is BODYPUMP. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • The technique involved is rather fixed and structured, and does not vary a lot between each quarterly release.
  • The tempos we move to are consistent, and for someone like me (and other Aspies) who are musically minded, this is an awesome thing!
  • A lot of Aspies are direct and to the point in what they say (I am no exception). BODYPUMP requires you to be exactly that in the way that you teach (hallelujah!).
  • It is the program that inspires me the most to lead and be noticed and appreciated. In turn, I can inspire other people to work hard and help them get to where they need to go.

So for any Aspie out there who loves moving to music, inspiring and getting to know people, and gaining some new skills, I would strongly recommend trying a BODYPUMP class and maybe, just maybe, take that further step and become an instructor.

There will come a point where you have taught for a while and feel you will want more from your teaching. And when you do want more, there are courses run by Les Mills that can help you get to that new level. However, there are things you should know beforehand…

Remember what I was saying before about Les Mills having a methodology for everything? Well, their advanced courses are no exception, particularly when you get to a higher standard of teaching. Without going into too much detail here (I will be posting separately on this), I have one piece of advice – be yourself.

Sounds easy enough, yeah? Not for an Aspie. Our brains are virtual machines and do not operate the same way that neurotypical brains do. They cannot be fully present in the moment with all the information that their brain is trying to process (due to the linear nature of an Aspie’s thinking process, they can only go through so much at any one time).

If I was to be completely myself and let myself go, my brain would explode from all the information overload.

Now you’ve just read the above and thought “has Patrick just contradicted himelf there?”. The answer to that – yes and no. When I say to be yourself, I mean to be true to yourself. Do not let anybody try to change you or mould you into something that you are not. And that applies in both the Les Mills world or the outside world.

I fully embrace Les Mills and what it stands for. However, as an Aspie, there are also limits to what I can do and am capable of, which has been reassuring but at the same time rather heartbreaking, knowing that deep down, I would never get the recognition as an instructor that someone who was neurotypical might.

As an aside, one thing you should know about Aspies – we are like robots with emotions, and when we feel emotions, we FEEL emotions. We are the typical people who wear their hearts on their sleeves. When we are happy, we just want to burst with happiness. When we’re angry, we just want to literally explode. And when we have our hearts crushed, it is totally unbearable. We learn to build defence mechanisms around our hearts so that they can be protected from any potential source of heartbreak – but even they aren’t foolproof.

I have dedicated the last 6.5 years of my life to being a Les Mills instructor, and I have been through my fair share of emotional rollercoasters as a result. Looking back now, the Aspergers has amplified a lot of those experiences. I see my fellow instructor friends getting well-deserved recognition for their instructing efforts, and I am so truly happy for them. But on the other hand, it also stings me at the same time to know that I cannot be as “natural” as them and would realistically never achieve what they have, despite my love and passion for the programs that I teach. In other words, I feel inferior.

I had intended this post to be somewhat educational and straightforward, but along the way, it became something a lot more personal. Memories and experiences can have a profound effect on people in general, but particularly Aspies. And when you hope on board the ride known as the Les Mills instructor journey, there will be more of these to come.

Teaching Les Mills has had such a life-changing effect on me, not only through my enjoyment of their programs, but also the indirect effect of how I discovered my Aspergers in the first place. And thus, I do believe, YES, absolutely one can be an Aspie and also teach Les Mills.

To anyone reading this, I hope this has helped to inform you somewhat, if only just a little bit. As always, I am happy to answer any questions that you might have, whether about Les Mills or about the Autism Spectrum or both. Together we can educate more people.

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