235 – David Geslak of La Grange, IL, Father of Two & Founder of Exercise Connection Serving People With Autism
Our guest this week is David Geslak, a national speaker, author and founder of Exercise Connection, a company committed to assist individuals with Autism and other disabilities; improve their focus, reduce maladaptive behaviors, enhance social skills as well as language development through proper exercise and physical fitness.
David and his wife, Jessica, have been married for nine years and are the proud parents of two children: Andrew (5) and Jordan (2), who was diagnosed with cyanotic breadth holding spells.
Through his education and work as a Certified Exercise Physiologist, as well as research, David has created tools and a process to transform the lives of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder through exercise and better fitness.
His book entitled: The Autism Fitness Handbook is a must read for any parent or caregiver of a child or young adult with Autism.
David is also founder of:
- ExerciseBuddy, an Autism fitness app for children, adults, and schools, and
- Autism Workforce, an organization focused on disability employment and helping create more Autism ready workplaces.
That’s all on this week’s Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
Email – email@example.com
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidgeslak/
Website – https://exerciseconnection.com/
The Autsim Fitness Handbook – https://www.amazon.com/Autism-Fitness-Handbook-Exercise-Confidence/dp/1849059985/ref=sr_1_1?crid=22ASJ37BDUSP8&keywords=David+Geslak&qid=1672983090&sprefix=david+geslak%2Caps%2C127&sr=8-1
Giant Steps Day School – https://www.mygiantsteps.org/day-school
Joey’s House Therappeutic Programming For Those With Special Needs – https://joeyshouseinc.org
Tom Couch: Special thanks to Horizon Therapeutics for sponsoring the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast, working tirelessly to research, develop, and bring forward medicines for people living with rare and rheumatic diseases. Discover more about Horizon Therapeutics’ mission at HorizonTherapeutics.com.
David Geslak: Don’t get me wrong, there’s been times where I’m questioning, is this really my mission and my purpose? But then there’s that day where I’m breaking down crying or have been, and then wherever it is, and the next person I run into is someone with special needs in the grocery store or whatnot. And I’m like, okay, I’m gonna keep going.
Tom Couch: That’s our guest this week. David Geslak, a national speaker, author and president of Exercise Connection, helping adults and kids with autism through exercise. We’ll meet David’s family, Jessica, Andrew, and Jordan, and we’ll hear his story on this week’s Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. Say hello now to our host, David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to The Dad to Dad Podcast, fathers mentoring fathers of children with special needs, presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support dads. To find out more, go to 21stCenturyDads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com, groups, and search “dad to dad”.
Tom Couch: Now, let’s hear this fascinating conversation between David Hirsch and David Geslak.
David Hirsch: I am thrilled to be talking today with David Geslak of La Grange, Illinois, the father of two, a national speaker and author and founder of Exercise Connection, a company committed to assist individuals with autism and other disabilities to improve their focus, reduce maladaptive behaviors, enhance social skills, as well as language development through proper exercise and physical fitness. David, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
David Geslak: No, happy to be here. Thank you again for having me and always the opportunity to spread my message. So thanks.
David Hirsch: You and your wife Jessica, have been married for nine years, and the proud parents of two children, Andrew 5 and Jordan 2, who was diagnosed with breath holding spells. Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
David Geslak: Yeah, so I grew up in the Chicagoland area. I grew up in Darien. I’m a graduate of Hinsdale South, and then eventually went to the University of Iowa for my undergrad. But Darien, the slogan was, I think it still is “A nice place to live”.
So after Iowa came back and still here in Chicago today. But regarding my boys and my family and my wife, just blessed to have two healthy young boys that are nonstop, and a wife who’s a speech pathologist who is in full support of what I’m doing with Exercise Connection. But she is an amazing speech pathologist, and I’m not just saying that, but she gets to fulfill her love and passion to help those with special needs as well.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Let’s go back because I think I remember you telling me that you have a brother who’s just nine months younger than you, and there’s a reason for that. What was it that led to you guys being as close in age as you are?
David Geslak: I’m adopted and my mother, my biological mother… There’s a lot of people when I was growing up, they say, do you ever want to meet your real parents? And I would say I didn’t like that, but my mom is my mom. So my biological mother, but my mother was unable to get pregnant. If you knew my mom, she gets a little stressed out. But eventually they were able to adopt me prearranged. The story I say is when I popped out, I was wheeled into another room, and soon after that, I think my mom’s stress might have been reduced because she got her first child, but she then was pregnant with my brother. [laughing]
She got those Irish twins and I think we raised hell for her, but me and my brother, I think turned out okay. My mom and dad, they did a great job raising us. So I am again blessed and thankful. It’s all good.
David Hirsch: Thanks for sharing that story. So I’m curious to know what did your dad do? What was his experience?
David Geslak: Yeah, so my father, he started his career and I remember running around the offices of Kodak. But he was there for, I don’t know, long, long time. He was a Vietnam vet. I think he went there right out of Vietnam and stayed there for a long time. Eventually worked for Sun Microsystems. He did have a brief stint with Apple. I think Kodak was doing some stuff with Apple and then retired maybe at least five years ago. But he still continues to work part-time at the local ACE Hardware here. He can change and fix anything. You name it, he can fix it. And I’m glad he is still around because I can’t do that stuff.
David Hirsch: [laughing] Yeah. What a blessing it is to have somebody who’s been present in your life for as long as he has and to be handy as well. And I’m wondering how would you describe your relationship with your dad?
David Geslak: My dad and I have a good relationship. As a kid and looking back, I know that he was busting his butt to provide, right? And my mom was a stay-at-home mom with obviously two Irish twins. It was nonstop.
I know my dad was working and traveling and there’s probably some things that we missed out on. Like he wasn’t my coach or whatever, but he did everything he could to provide for our family and he did an incredible job. And obviously still my mom, yeah, she wasn’t working per se, but she was working.
But my dad and I, my dad and I’s relationship is good. I think over the years it’s grown stronger and now we get to spend a little time together, I’m getting a little emotional, but with my boy, with Andrew, and playing golf, and he just runs. My dad doesn’t run. He follows us. He walks, he carries Andrew’s golf bag, and it’s like Saturday mornings we just get to play nine holes and just have that bond. So it’s pretty special.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing. I’m wondering if there’s a takeaway or two that come to mind, something you’ve tried to incorporate into your own fathering, a lesson you learned perhaps from your dad.
David Geslak: My father just again, was always I always saw him working. He was working and I’m working all the time, so I think that was instilled on me. But knowing now, having my own sons and a family, I just know that I’m trying to, and I’m, and I have ability to do this to some extent, right? To not put work as the primary thing. So if I can, and I’m consciously making those decisions to say, okay, I can close the computer sometimes at a decent hour and go be my kid’s T-ball coach. Because those days when we talked prior, and I’ve talked to many dads, you’re not gonna get those times back.
And I’m sure my dad probably looking back, probably would like to have done those things. So having heard that and being athletic and being able to coach like my son and wanting to, I’m making a conscious effort. And I will tell you and share that it is extremely difficult for me cuz my brain is so focused on this mission that I have in front of me.
And my team. In some cases, yeah. They’re my quote unquote employees. I’m their leader, but at the same time, like I want to see them succeed. But I am trying to put the family ahead of the work and the business.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing. What I think I heard you say was that your dad has a great work ethic and that’s something that you’ve embraced and then you also want to make a better effort at balancing. That work family balance, which we all struggle with. And your point is a good one, which is you can’t go back and make up for those lost years. They’re only gonna be two years old or five years old, or 10 years old once, and if you’re gonna err, why not err on the side of engaging with family and not with the thought that the work’s always gonna be there, but the work’s always gonna be there. And that’ll get done too. I applaud you.
So I’m wondering if there’s been any other father influencers, perhaps starting with your grandfathers on your dad’s side and then your mom’s side.
David Geslak: Yeah, I remember my grandfather on my father’s side a bit. He died when I was, I don’t know, I had to be younger than, I want to guess 10, but maybe eight or seven. I don’t really remember. But I do remember him vaguely. But all I know about him that sticks the most out is that he used to play in the Chicago Symphony. I know he played the violin, but I think other instruments.
But then to continue with the father figures I would say there’s definitely one that has been one of the biggest influences in my business life. Jake Oltz. He read about me years ago in 2011 about my work with those with autism, and he’s a pretty successful entrepreneur in Chicago. And he called and he said, I could potentially use some help with my nephew on the spectrum and I assume you could use some help with the business. And he was right. He’s very direct in his approach. And I think I was almost didn’t show up for the second meeting. But when I walked across his street on Clybourn, where his businesses are, and I saw that it said honorary Jake Oltz Way, [laughing] I said, I think he’s trying to teach me something.
To make a long story short, he saved me probably 20 years of headaches cuz he’s dealt with it. But just educated me on the business side. And like I said we talk about family, we talk about his kids, we talk about my kids, we talk about stuff. And so he’s more than a mentor in many ways. He’s been a father figure as well.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for mentioning the influence that Jake Oltz has had on your life. Everybody should be so lucky to have somebody lean in and be there. And it might be a little bit of a stretch, but I think in a lot of our experiences you have these angels appear in your life and you don’t know that you’re looking at one looking forward, but you can only look back and realize what influence somebody’s had in your life. And I think that’s what I heard you saying about Jake Oltz.
You mentioned you went to Hinsdale South High School, took a degree at University of Iowa in health promotion. And I think you also got your Academy of Sports Medicine degree as well.
David Geslak: Yeah. It was American College of Sports Medicine. And it was an exercise physiologist.
David Hirsch: Okay.
David Geslak: Actually, I was more stressed out about that exam than I was my finals of my senior year because it was on the same week.
David Hirsch: [laughing[ And I’m curious to know where did your career take you from the time you graduated from Iowa?
David Geslak: So Iowa, actually, I started as an intern going into my four and a half year, but at Iowa football. So I was a strength and conditioning coach intern for their Iowa football program. But of the three interns that were there, I was the only one that they asked to stay as a student assistant.
I was essentially there for the entire 2003 season. I stayed or I probably, I could have stayed, I should say, to probably do something more in collegiate football and directly with Iowa. But at that same time that coach, the head strength and conditioning coach had a connection at what was called Iowa City High School. He got me a part-time gig. So I’m taking 12 hours of courses, Iowa football in the morning, coursework, and then I would go to Iowa City High School to be a part-time strength coach for their high school. But I really connected more with the younger population than I did the collegiate athletes.
But I ended up leaving Iowa and started my first gym at 24 years old. That was nine months outta college. Started a gym that was called Right Fit. It was always meant for children, but to keep the doors open in my background, I was training athletes, adults. And eventually a dad that I was training brought me his son on the autism spectrum. That was the start of now what? That was 2004 so what are we, 18 years later? Here we are.
David Hirsch: Wow. Okay. We’ll take a little bit deeper dive into Exercise Connection in a moment. But I’m curious to know how did you and Jessica meet?
David Geslak: Yeah, so after I was working at Right Fit and had this connection with kids around the spectrum, I realized I didn’t know much, right, about autism. So I went eventually left my business and went to go work at a school for children with autism that still exists in Illinois. It’s one of the oldest therapeutic day schools, called Giant Steps. And I left my business to go be a para-educator there. And I don’t mean to joke about this. This kind of was the truth that we were both para-educators. And I was changing diapers on 18 year old males and she was changing diapers on 18 year old girls. Once we saw that, I guess we were meant to be. [laughing] But we, yeah, that’s how we met. We were we were para-educators. Yeah. We just made, eventually made a connection.
David Hirsch: That’s wild.
David Geslak: Yeah.
David Hirsch: And was there something about Joey’s House? What was that?
David Geslak: Yeah, so my wife, she’s a speech therapist now at a school district and one of the kids she used to work with years ago in the schools, their family started a foundation called Joey’s House. She still works with that boy, and I have to tell this story. He’s, I think in his late teens or early twenties, nonverbal. My wife has got him saying words now at 20 years old, and the mom is obviously ecstatic. It’s pretty incredible. But that mom started Joey’s House for other families. It’s driven around a special needs camp every summer for free for as many kids that they can hold. And it’s pretty awesome.
David Hirsch: Let’s talk about special needs first on a personal basis and then beyond. And I’m curious to know what is Jordan’s diagnosis and how did it come about?
David Geslak: Yeah, so during COVID he was eating an avocado and he got angry or upset, but we didn’t know if he choked. And that’s what we thought. Everyone was frantic. My wife was there, I was there. My mother-in-law and my mother, my stressful mother, you guys gotta remember. And they were panicked. We eventually called the ambulance. And even at that moment, I don’t remember all what we were describing, what happened, and I’ll never forget the paramedic said, oh, it sounds like breath holding.
And my wife and I and everyone’s like what is that? So that ended up happening multiple times, meaning he would get upset or maybe I don’t know, bang his foot, or he’d want something but wouldn’t get it. And my wife has done more research than me, but voluntarily hold his breath to the point where he will pass out, turn blue, and go stiff.
But she was freaking out, and I don’t blame her because it started happening far too often for us. It still happens today. Yeah, it was happening way too much. And test after test, they’re like, no, it’s breath holding. And it’s not uncommon, but yeah.
David Hirsch: So is there a longer term implication or any fear that you have as parents about this condition?
David Geslak: Oh, of course. I keep saying breath holding, but I think the term is breath holding spells. And yes, that’s why we kept getting him tested, but they said it doesn’t affect his brain or whatever, like he will grow out of it. And my wife found Facebook groups, joining these groups and talking about it. There’s a lot of families out there experiencing this.
David Hirsch: It’s great that there’s a Facebook group or some other resources so that parents can relate to one another and maybe gain some insights and maybe it takes a little bit of the fear out of what you’re facing. You’re not alone. If it’s something more consequential, obviously you wanna know about it, but if it’s something that is not life threatening, although if your child turns blue and passes out, you’ve gotta be thinking, oh my God, I can’t be just assuming that he’s gonna snap back.
My heart reaches out to you and Jessica in the situation, and I’m hoping it is something that Jordan grows out of in a relatively short period of.
David Geslak: Yeah, I appreciate that. But yeah it is, it’s pretty freaky to see that happen. So for any other dads out there. Yeah, for what it’s worth, I guess it’s common, but that doesn’t help us in the moment or our wives. But yeah, definitely reach out. I know there’s groups out there.
Tom Couch: We’ll be back with more of the conversation on the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast in just a few moments. But first, this quick message. Please help 21st Century Dads gather research on families raising children with special needs by having them complete the Special Fathers Network Early Intervention Parents Survey. A link to the survey can be found in the show notes. As a token of our appreciation, each person, mom or dad, who completes the survey will receive a Great Dad Coin. Thank you. Now back to the conversation.
David Hirsch: Let’s go beyond your own personal experience and talk about Exercise Connection which you made reference to in the past. You had a gym and you expanded, if I remember, from just serving youth to serving adults and athletes, I think the way you phrased it was, hey, you have to pay the bills. You have to expand the number of services that you’re offering. It was a father that brought his son in, a son with autism, that sort of was the kernel for this idea of serving individuals on the spectrum and I guess with other types of diagnoses.
So when did it actually formally start? What was the original vision that you had?
David Geslak: After I had helped that boy and really it was, he, his father said, cuz a lot of people don’t know this, but his father said, teach him sports, but also he can’t skip. I was not intrigued in the sport piece. I was more intrigued in the skipping piece because a neurotypical child who can skip is shown better to read than a child who cannot. So I used the same strategies that I was in charge of at Iowa Football to teach these incoming freshman football players a bench, a squat, a power clean. Cuz I had to reteach them the correct way cuz as a high school football player myself, it wasn’t about the quality of movement, I should say. It was about the quantity. How much can I lift? So I eventually started working with more kids and realized that I knew nothing about autism. So I went to that school, para-educator, and that’s really where I got my education, not only working with a diverse group of those on the spectrum, but also most importantly, learning how they learn.
I was in PT sessions, OT sessions, speech sessions, getting them off the bus, getting them on the bus and seeing all this. So eventually that school asked me to start their first fitness program, and I did from kindergarten all the way to transition to age students and created structure, created protocols and visuals that made them successful.
After about a year of doing that, I said, not only do I want to help more kids, but I wanted to help and educate more parents about the difference between exercise, traditional exercise, Dave. Like you and I and the people listening may go to the gym and put on their headphones or get a personal trainer. I wanted to teach them how that played a role in their life versus not that there’s anything wrong with these things like movement-based therapies like PT or OT, that’s critical. They need that, but eventually that’s gonna end. It’s gonna end when the kid meets their goal, or maybe the parents run out of insurance coverage.
Also, I wanted parents to understand the difference between exercise and physical or adapted physical education. Because for many of those, while they’re all well-intended and sports can play a critical role for some of our kids with special needs or those on the spectrum, for many, I think it’s setting them up for failure.
And here’s why. Because sports involves two of the most challenging characteristics of those with autism: communication and social skills. So I’ve also worked with plenty of kids or adults that don’t want to be athletes, but they wanna be comic book artists. They wanna write or they don’t have the motor skills to play a sport. So we need to teach them exercise. And that was my mission, was just to educate parents about that. And fast forward 18 years later, it’s taken me to nine countries and all over the world and it’s just, I never had imagined that.
David Hirsch: Yeah. I’m fascinated by the work you do. And I understand that there’s a process and everybody wants to get to the exercise, right? Because that’s the activity. But you emphasize the importance of the foundation that needs to be in place. And the way I remember you articulating it was engage, educate, empower, and then exercise. And I’m wondering if you could touch on each of those.
David Geslak: Many of our children on the spectrum, many of them in the schools, all well-intended, right? They’re getting corrected if they do something wrong or not by protocol, right? And again, I understand this purpose, right? We want to get him to hand write better. We want him to get him to follow that instruction so he is not having a bad behavior and we’re trying to teach them. I totally get it.
But this is what they’re hearing all day. And I saw it. No. Stop. Try again. No. Stop. Try again. And when you talk about exercise and quite frankly, let’s just think of an exercise environment, like a gym or community-based fitness center. If we’re gonna tell ’em no, stop, try again in something that’s traditionally challenging for most on the spectrum, these movement skills and these movement patterns, they have gross motor challenges. That’s what we’re gonna start with? Oh, no, stop, try again? That’s not gonna work and that’s not gonna be motivating. So when we talk about engagement, what I say is persistence, not perfection, whether it’s to the parent or the professional. Just, let’s spend a few minutes. Let’s just get them moving. If you do that’s half the battle. And as a trainer, as a professional, if you get them to come and want to come back to the session, the second session, you win.
But there’s also research that people need to know is that 10 minutes of exercise is shown to reduce stereotypical behaviors for the following 60 minutes. So why is 10 minutes important? 10 minutes is a realistic goal for the parent teaching the child, quite frankly, for the novice or even the exercise professional just starting with a kid or an adult on the spectrum.
And third it’s a realistic goal for that person on the spectrum. Let’s start there, and if we can do that, then let’s build. But it’s all about persistence not perfection, and as the person working with them, building that relationship.
David Hirsch: I love it. Thank you for emphasizing that. Persistence not perfection. And in the area of educating, what is it that you’re trying to educate people about?
David Geslak: I’m always trying to educate parents in the beginning cuz the parents would call or they would drop their kid off. Sometimes they would stay and watch. It happened multiple times where a parent would drop their kid off, come and pick him up, and they’re paying a fee. I totally understand that. But they look at me and they’re like he’s not sweating. What’d I just pay for? [laughing] But that’s their perception of exercise. You have to go to a CrossFit class and exhaust yourself, or you have to see what’s on The Biggest Loser. And that’s, no, that doesn’t mean it’s a good workout.
And quite frankly, for a kid with autism, you start a workout like that, and I’ve had that call too, that kid’s never coming back. Because think about their sensory systems. If we get sore, imagine if how their systems perceive that soreness. We don’t know.
So when we talk about education, that’s what we’re starting with. We’re starting with that with the families, but I’m also talking about education, both for the family and the individual. What I had seen, unfortunately with a lot on the spectrum, and this had been verified, by me going across the country, talking to other professionals. There’s a lot of kids or adults on the spectrum who don’t know their hands from their feet, and they’re right from their left. And however that’s skipped in our education system, especially for those with special needs, that’s fundamental daily living skills, movement skills. If we’re gonna teach them exercise, let alone sport, and they don’t know where their foot is or their hand is, or they’re right from their left, how are we missing that? But they need to understand their body parts and how they move.
David Hirsch: Gotcha. Thank you. And I know you use storytelling to empower people, and I’m wondering if you can use an example of that.
David Geslak: Rowan. I’ll use that story. Rowan was three and a half years old when I walked into his home. On the spectrum and what I would consider a very typical three and a half year old on the spectrum, bouncing from wall to wall or couch to couch, limited verbal abilities, scripting words. And I had never worked with anyone that young. But I sat there with his parents and his speech therapist as he was bouncing back and forth. I was just asking questions about him, what the speech therapist was using and strategies to make his speech session successful. So fast forward, I used those same strategies, but with Rowan, how I was able to get him to move and engage in exercise was because at three and a half years old and his communication level, he was learning about cat, dog, table, chair and saying those words. If you’ve taken yoga, that sounds pretty familiar to some poses. So I would put those poses in front of him and these visuals, and then I would just try to engage him. I wouldn’t force him, but I’d say, look… Honest to God. One day in his basement, I’ve got all these visuals out. He goes to his books that his mother would read to him, and he pulls out an animal book. So I started opening up and reading to him and guess what? It was about a snake. So I read it, I showed ’em the visual, we did the snake pose. Then I went to the next one, the lion. Read it, showed him the visual, we did the pose. That’s how I got him to start. I’m getting goosebumps right now, but that’s how I got him to start exercising.
David Hirsch: That’s powerful. Yeah. Thank you. And I know that your work is based on evidence, right? This isn’t just David Geslak’s opinion. And I want to have you ground this. What type of research are you referring to?
David Geslak: Yeah first this evidence and what I’m about to discuss is obviously a lot of it is driven by foundational knowledge and what I started. But the team that I have in place are all a multidisciplinary team, and we’ve created these protocols, these research based tools. So I have a speech therapist on team, my wife, and we’ve got two sped teachers that have helped develop this. A physical therapist who is also a mom of a son with autism. And then the last one we just added an adapted PE teacher, master’s level.
So the first thing we created was the visual exercise system, and it’s a paper-based system that really helps to communicate the exercise instruction. But prior to that, and quite honestly, to this day, there’s nothing like that out there.
The typical stuff, there’s basic general visuals, soccer, baseball, jumping jack, but we really took that exercise knowledge and broke it down to create more challenging exercises and the breakdown of them. After we launched that, it was right around when the iPads came out and I was like, oh, I need to create an app. [laughing] So we basically took that paper-based color-coded system and then transformed that into an app. And I’m proud to say that this app now is being used in universities, both in their curriculum and educating students, but also supported in research in seven independent research studies.
And in many cases, obviously I’m excited that it’s Exercise Buddy, right? That is it’s name and that’s the product being researched. But now, if these therapists really start to understand the importance of what movement and exercise can do for our kids. Awesome. Awesome.
David Hirsch: Along those lines, you also created something called the Autism Exercise Specialist Certificate. And what is that about?
David Geslak: The Autism Exercise Specialist Certificate was created in partnership with the American College of Sports Medicine, where I am an exercise physiologist. But for many who may not know, they are the gold standard. ACSM is a gold standard in fitness, the largest, world’s largest exercise science organization.
And the story is I chased down their CEO for two years. When him and I was invited to certain round tables and I was starting the business and I had no money, but when I saw he was gonna be there, I flew or I drove. And it took two years essentially for them to say, yes, we agree with your perspective and that there’s both an opportunity and responsibility.
So we created this certificate. Because the exercise world is watered down with trainers, but I don’t want the exercise piece watered down here. And that’s why I spent so much time working with the American College of Sports Medicine because I don’t want anything happening to these kids. And people need to be trained to understand, cuz as quick as they may think, an exercise professional thinks, oh, this could be a revenue stream, which is true, but I’m gonna help these kids. And I’m sure they are well-intentioned, but if you’re not prepared, as quick as they come, they’re gonna leave you twice as fast or their families. But even worse off, they may never come back. So I want people trained appropriately. We’ve created the team behind the certificate to design it, and now this is also supported in one independent research study and actually Laura Bassett, the ABA professor, is starting to do another study on it as well.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. What I think I heard you saying is that it took you two years to track this guy down and what you inadvertently told me was that you’re an endurance athlete, right? It wasn’t a sprint. You were in it for the long term, and you had a vision, you were committed, and you weren’t gonna stop until you got the job done. So thank you for sharing.
David Geslak: Don’t get me wrong, there’s been times where I’m questioning, is this really my mission and my purpose? But then there’s that day where I’m breaking down crying or have been, and then wherever it is, and the next person I run into is someone with special needs in the grocery store or whatnot. And I’m like, okay, I’m gonna keep going.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Thanks for sharing. So I’m thinking about advice now and I’m wondering if there’s any advice you’d like to share with parents, specifically dads, raising a child either on the spectrum or with another type of diagnosis.
David Geslak: Look, I know, obviously my son would be defined as having a special need, but having been in the homes of these parents I still don’t feel that I am by any means in their shoes.
Actually, not too long ago, I found out through a friend that their brother, his son was recently diagnosed and he described that and I said, hey, he can call me. I’m not a dad, but I have resources. I have people, but I also have dads to connect them with. And he said to me, I think he’s angry and I don’t know if he wants to talk. And I said, look, I get it, but I don’t. So I guess my advice is, I think as males, right, I think that we feel often that we need to fix the problem. I think that’s ingrained, we want to provide, we want to fix, right?
I can also, I’m happy to share this. I’ve been going to therapy for 15 years, and I think most males think if I go to therapy, that means something’s wrong with me. News flash. There’s something wrong with all of us. I think the worst thing that we could, the worst thing that we could do is not help ourselves because then we’re not gonna be better for our company, better for our employees, and more importantly, better for our family and our kids. Therapy may not, may be two or three steps too far for some dads listening, but there’s other dads out there that have special needs sons and daughters.
I know Facebook groups exist. And Dave, like what you’re doing to talk to dads it’s okay. Reach out. There’s someone in your shoes, and it doesn’t make you weak as a male to reach out. In my opinion, that makes you even stronger.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Thanks for sharing and emphasizing the importance of just connecting with other dads, right? You’re not alone. You don’t have to be alone. If you choose to be alone, I guess that’s your choice. But there’s other people that have been there and done that. And just in whatever way it makes sense in your own situation, connect with others. So it’s not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength.
Let’s give a special shout out to the amazing Hacky Wrightman at Different Brains for helping connect us.
David Geslak: Yes. Thank you, Hacky.
David Hirsch: Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
David Geslak: No, we talked a lot and I, again, I thank you for allowing me to share this message and share our mission. And again I always emphasize, I guess this maybe is the last thing: in this day of social media and people tweeting and Instagramming, and it’s all about me. It may seem like that. And to some extent, when you see my stuff posted, this has nothing to do with me. This is all about helping these families and these kids, and this is also, and the success and the growth that we’re having, again, goes beyond me. It is about my team and the people every day that get up just like me. And I’m my team here and who are not connected personally to having a kid on the spectrum, but we are trying together to make a difference. So again, I appreciate, I’m thankful for them, but I’m also, again, thankful that you’ve had me, but essentially my whole team to share our message.
David Hirsch: So if somebody wants to learn about Exercise Connection or contact you, what’s the best way to do that?
David Geslak: Yeah, just go to ExerciseConnection.com. Just like it’s spelled. E-X-E-R-C-I-S-E. I say that because a lot of people spell ‘exercise’ wrong, and connection is singular. ExerciseConnection.com.
David Hirsch: Excellent. We’ll be sure to include that in the show notes, so it does make it as easy as possible for people to connect with you. David, thank you for your time and many insights. As a reminder, David is just one of the individuals who’s part of the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs. If you’d like to be a mentor father, or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation to your own, please go to 21stCenturyDads.org.
Thank you for listening to the latest episode of the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did. As you probably know, the 21st Century Dads Foundation is a 501c3 not-for-profit organization, which means we need your help to keep our content free to all concerned. Would you please consider making a tax-deductible contribution? I would really appreciate your support. David, thanks again.
David Geslak: Thank you.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children match up with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support other dads. To find out more, go to 21stCenturyDads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we would be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com, groups, and search “dad to dad”. Lastly, we’re always looking to share interesting stories. If you’d like to share your story or know of a compelling story, please send an email to David@21stCenturyDads.org.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast was produced by me, Tom Couch.
Thanks again to Horizon Therapeutics who believe that science and compassion must work together to transform lives. That’s why they work tirelessly to research, develop, and bring forward medicines for people living with rare and rheumatic diseases. Discover more about Horizon Therapeutics at HorizonTherapeutics.com.