For the past year and a half, Garrett Porterfield has been taking Pilates once a week to help with his posture and to strengthen weak ankles.

The 26-year-old Ahwatukee Foothills resident and graduate of Mountain Pointe High School, is also Autistic.

Being on the spectrum of Autism, Porterfield has learned how to stand straighter, has strengthened his core and is overcoming the hurdle of weak ankles after an epileptic seizure when he was a toddler, where his ankles rolled inward as he collapsed.

“This makes me walk a bit better, and actually makes me stronger,” said Porterfield, before taking a short session at the Weon Keyong Health Center in Tempe.

Every week, Porterfield comes into the studio to work with owner Sonia Kang. Porterfield, who like most people with brain disorders, heavily slouched and inevitably suffered from low-back pain.

“It has helped him tremendously,” said Porterfield’s mother, Jacquie.

While most people with Autism have difficulty understanding concepts, Jacquie said Porterfield has been able to grasp the ideas of Pilates’ movements with Kang’s help.

“She is able to visually teach him what she verbally says so that he gets double the information,” Jacquie said.

Helping him through the different machines in her studio, some used for balance and flexibility and also doing floor work with medicine balls, Kang said she uses the same method for Porterfield as she does other clients.

“He’s actually no different than anyone else, and has better communication skills than others I’ve worked with,” Kang said, though she does include repetition and knows when Porterfield may have enough.

“We have come a long way,” Kang added. “It’s neat to see him remember and recall.”

Porterfield is currently working at a local Safeway, and since has been able to safely lift heavy boxes or items while working, preventing injury.

While Porterfield, and his parents, plan on sticking with Pilates, they each agree it has helped them in different ways.

“Through this little journey we’ve taken, everything that he learns is something that opens the window wider for him to understand what’s going on and how to control his body,” Jacquie said.

“It’s pretty fun, it’s a whole new avenue,” added Porterfield, as he smiled at his mom.

Weon Keyong Health Center is located at 6473 South Rural Road in Tempe. For more information, visit

• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or Follow on Twitter: @_dianamartinez.

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