Please let me introduce you to Kathleen Carter. She is a teenager who is living with Aspergers and has volunteered to share her article with us! – –
Alejandro Adrian LeMon, Ph.D., LMHC
By Kathleen Carter
If you saw me at school now, you would never guess that I used to hate it. For years, Idreaded school days and would plead with my mom not to make me go. You see, while I loved learning, as someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, I was often ignored or made fun of by other students, and I had difficulty making friends.School could be a very lonely place for me.
When I began high school, my mom was eager for me to get involved in an extracurricular activity. She suggested I start swimming regularly. And I took to the water right away. I found that I looked forward to going for a swim, which was unusual for me. Most of the time, I was happiest staying in my room and reading. Swimming changed that.
And as it turned out, in addition to making me safer and more physically healthy, swimming had other positive benefits that helped me in school. For example, it:
Increased my attention span.The first, and most obvious benefit, to me was that it helped me concentrate. This article on autism and swimming notes that it’s an activity that can help people on the autism spectrum increase their attention span, and that is definitely the case with me. As the article explains, the repetitive nature of swimming helps people with autism reduce their own repetitive behaviors. It helped me expend some of the nervous energy that would be particularly bad for me at school, and as a result, I could sit and focus in the classroom just like other students.
Improved my ability to socialize with peers. When I began swimming, I met a girl who attended a different high school. In a normal social situation, I would either avoid someone my own age or struggle just to make conversation. But as this piece on the importance of including swimmers with disabilities notes, swimming is a great source of socialization for people with disabilities.
As a young person with Asperger’s, it was an incredible help to me because it gave me something in common with some of my peers. If I was struggling to make conversation with the girl I had met, I always had a topic to fall back on and that helped me interact with her. And we’ve actually become close friends.
Helped me expand my goals. Before swimming, I wasn’t athletic and I was a mediocre student. Because I had struggled for so long, I just didn’t think I was capable of achieving some of the things other kids my age could achieve.
HumanKinetics.com provides an excerpt from Adapted Physical Education and Sport, Fifth Edition. It touches on the idea that achieving goals in the water helps improve self esteem and boost morale so an athlete is able to excel in other areas of their life. I’m living proof that that is indeed the case. As I started mastering strokes, I began creating bigger goals for my swimming. And the good feelings about swimming carried over to other areas. I started making goals to achieve better grades and take more challenging classes. Even better, I was achieving those goals!
Reduced stress and anxiety.For all of elementary and middle school, school was very stressful for me. Most aspects of being at school made me anxious and worried. I was given breathing exercises to try, which helped a little, but came nowhere close to helping as much as swimming has. This article on why parents should take autistic children to the pool points out that simply being in the water is soothing. That’s true. If I’ve had a bad day, getting in the pool always eases my mind. But I find that those good feelings carry over once I’m out of the pool, too. Not only am I less stressed at school, but I’m able to manage my anxiety a lot better when it peaks.
Swimming may not be the solution for every child with Asperger’s. But if you’re a teen struggling with any of the problems I mentioned, I encourage you to give it a shot. If you don’t know how to swim, taking lessons is a great way to get used to being in the pool. And knowing how to swim is an important skill. So even if you don’t love it, it will be time well spent!