If you’ve ever felt worried because you thought your child’s options in life were limited due to Autism, you wouldn’t be alone. Every parent of a special needs child wants them to live an active, healthy lifestyle and interact with other kids.
Most commonly you could be wondering if your child will be accepted in local sports clubs… will they fit in? Let’s take it a step further; can children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) grow up to become world-class athletes?
If you’re a mum with special needs kids you will face many challenges that can take an emotional toll. It’s essential that you have emotional support from the people around you to help you remain optimistic and help encourage your kids to be all they can be. Kids with ASD aren’t often seen as potential athletes however that doesn’t need to be their reality.
Given that ASD children are often pigeonholed as people who find personal interactions difficult, unable to read social cues, and are easily irritated, these traits don’t exactly make it easy to become a world-class athlete. But – the good news is there are people with ASD who have surpassed their limitations and developed into sporting personalities.
They have successfully competed in large arenas, in front of global audiences, and broken records. They have served as examples of resilience and excellence despite their challenges.
The challenges that kids with ASD face may not make their athletic endeavours easy, however they are certainly are not impossible. If they enjoy it and have a desire to pursue a sport, nothing should stop them from being the best they can be!
If your child has ASD and enjoys sports, they may be inspired by the stories of other athletes with the same condition. Of course, it’s human nature to come up with excuses and it’s certainly difficult as a mum, however, maintaining a positive mindset is powerful. And who knows – your child may become the next success story.
Anthony Ianni realised early on that he was different from the other kids in his Michigan, US neighbourhood. At 11 years old, he already stood at six feet tall, and doctors had diagnosed him with pervasive development disorder at age four. His parents were told that his autism diagnosis meant that he was unlikely to succeed in school.
But Anthony came from an athletic, never-give-up kind of family, and he used this to his advantage. By the time he reached high school, he had stopped attracting negative attention for being different. Instead, he attained a level of celebrity for playing high school basketball.
His basketball talent won him a scholarship at Grand Valley State University where he played for two years, before playing for Michigan State University for another two years. Today, although Anthony has hung up his jersey he works for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and is a highly sought-after motivational speaker for anti-bullying.
Some sports journalists consider Hawaii-based Clay Marzo as one of the best surfers in the world. He has a unique command of the water that has earned him several surfing trophies and titles. But while he’s untouchable on the water, Clay struggled with social interactions and didn’t do well in school. His painful frankness and unconventional behaviour led him to be misunderstood until he was finally diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at age 18.
Clay doesn’t participate in surfing tours often. But when he does, he generates a high level of excitement and media buzz. He’s been the subject of films and TV shows, most notably Just Add Water. He also volunteers regularly with Surfers Healing, a non-profit organisation that teaches surfing to kids with autism.
Some people can be good in more than one sport, however few can excel at the level of David Campion. His excellence at basketball earned him a spot in the team representing Australia in the 2015 Asia Pacific Games. David represented his country again in the 2017 Special Olympics, this time in snowboarding, and won gold.
Throughout his life, David has found it difficult to interpret social cues, which can be a challenge when he plays basketball with his team. In snowboarding however, David finds freedom in the thrill of going downhill in the snow. David continues to train in the snow with Team Australia, though he occasionally swaps his snowboard with his basketball.
British swimmer Jessica-Jane Applegate was diagnosed with ASD as a child. Her love for swimming developed early when her mother took her to a swimming club near their home. By the time she reached 13, she was already breaking regional records, which put her on the path to swimming for Great Britain, representing the country in international events such as the Berlin Open.
She also participated in the 2012 Summer Paralympics, earning gold and setting a Paralympics record. She swam for Great Britain again in the 2016 Summer Paralympics, where she won silver and bronze medals. In 2013, Queen Elizabeth II appointed Jessica-Jane a Member of the Order of the British Empire for her swimming achievements.
Though he’s been competing for only a few years, American runner Michael Brannigan has broken world records for his speed. Diagnosed with ASD at age two, Michael started running as part of the Rolling Thunder Special Needs Program in New York when he was eight years old. In 2015, he made his international debut in Doha, where he won gold and silver in separate T20 events. He qualified for and won gold at the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio. In 2017, Michael broke the world record for T20 5000m middle-distance racing.
As a mum caring for your child with ASD it can be stressful. Take comfort knowing that you are also doing the best you can. Make sure you find some time to stress-bust and take some time to look after yourself. By doing so, you’ll be better equipped to be all you can for your children.