The diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is hard. You might feel like your kid won’t have all the opportunities that the future can offer a neurotypical child. However, living with autism shouldn’t be a limitation for your child! Children are allowed to play and have fun with their peers, a kid with autism is not an exception. They could find a sport that catches their attention; your duty as a parent is to encourage them to pursue that sport. Why? Because even with autism they are capable of having a professional career as athletes.
These five athletes can show you and your kid what is like to be a professional athlete, and living in the autism spectrum at the same time. All of them agreed on one thing: their sports were one way to work with their diagnosis and focus on overcoming their problems, especially social relationships. So, read these amazing stories and show your kids what they can achieve.
Meet the athletes!
Clay Marzo: surfing is life for Marzo. As many kids within the spectrum, his Asperger diagnosis didn’t appear until he was 18 years old. At the beginning it was ADHD, then dyslexia, then learning disability, and finally Asperger. But that didn’t stop him from jumping on the surfboard and enjoying the life in water. Now Clay is 29 and feels more confident facing the waves than facing people on land. He still has problems with social interaction, simple conversations and maintaining eye contact, but that is just smaller problems, surfing is what he needs and what he seeks, “Out of the water, he is not comfortable, even today. In the water, it’s like he can breathe,” said his mother, Jill.
Dealing with Asperger hasn’t been a limitation, he is one of the best free surfers in the world, has many sponsors as Quicksilver, Skullcandy, DC Shoes, and others. Marzo is well known as being painfully honest, but intuitive and expressive in the water. His surfing style is so innovative, that is impossible not to look at him when he is competing. Marzo also volunteers at Surfers Healing, a non-profit organization that helps kids with autism spectrum in surfing camps. As he mentions it, teaching surf to children like him has been an amazing experience.
Tommy Des Brisay: autism spectrum hasn’t stopped Tommy to run as faster as he can. He wants to be part of Canada’s Paralympic Team for Tokyo 2020, that is his dream and major goal. He was diagnosed when he was 2 years old and was very active especially in the physical aspect, but when turned 5 he still hadn’t spoken a single word. The experts told his parents that he maybe wouldn’t talk at all, but slowly he began to write and read until he finally said his first words at 8 years old. Disney’s movies have been his passion and are helping him with communication skills. As a huge fan of Disney, he felt happy in the Disney Parks.
Tommy started to run at age 14, two years later he joined the Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club. They help him with his every need and have been his principal supporters in his professional career. He has won many field, track, and cross country races, and now he is aspiring to get the mark and participate and the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Summer Games; he also practices ski, kayak, and rock climbing because he likes to be active. As he said: “I’m going to be the first fastest runner in the world!” Autism hasn’t stopped Tommy running style.
Michael Phelps: perhaps the most famous swimmer in the world, and most condecorated Olympic medalist. But, do you know that he suffers ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder? Yes, at age 9, Michael was diagnosed with this disorder. His mom, Debbie, explained that it was a heartbreaking notice because people around him considered the diagnosis as a limitation. They said that he won’t be able to achieve anything in his life, but Debbie and Michael, his father, fought hard to make him focus at school. Debbie, as a teacher, conceived several techniques to make him concentrate even with the hard subjects; an example: she said to his math teacher to make the class problems around swimming, so he was finding school entertaining.
ADHD wasn’t a limitation for him; instead made him focus in the swimming races because they are short and quick, and that was exactly what he needed at that time. Swimming makes him happy, and he knows everything his mom did to help him, so through his foundation The Michael Phelps Foundation, he tries to use those experience to help kids to learn how to swim. And his mom uses what she learned while raising Michael, at her school where she is the principal in Maryland, it doesn’t matter if the kid suffers or not of ADHD. Michael’s story is an inspiration for everyone, kids and parents as well.
Jessica-Jane Applegate: this 22 years old girl has to deal with living with ASD in Great Britain, but her mom, as Phelps’s mom, realized that she was happy and more focus in the water, so she encouraged her daughter to pursue a professional career in swimming, and now she is one of the best female Paralympic swimmers of the world. She has 24 medals, many British, Paralympic and world records, and a promising future in the swimming world competition. She was the first British athlete with ASD to win gold at the London 2012 Paralympics Games.
In 2013, Jessica was appointed a member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her contributions to swimming, by the Queen. As she said in an interview, she won’t let her limits restrain her: “In training/competition there are very few people who really understand how hard it is for me. I really struggle to cope with people socially. I don’t like any changes and trying to concentrate on more than one thing is so difficult, but my coach is very understanding. We have a timetable for everything, so I have a good routine, we make plans to keep calm and we always have a backup plan so I feel safe.”
Cammi Granato: she is a particular case, because she lived all her life, and part of her professional career, without knowing about her condition. It wasn’t until 2003 that she heard about ADHD, and realized that the symptoms could be her behavior. After a visit to the doctor, she was diagnosed with it. Granato says that growing up with six siblings is the reason behind being blind about the disorder; her behavior was normal with all the disaster in her house. However, with her hockey career making her famous, after winning a gold medal in the Nagano 1998 Winter Olympics, with USA Hockey Olympic Team, she finds herself in a mess.
“My life began spinning out of control,” said the Illinois native, who is now 47. “The number of voice messages and emails I received became overwhelming, I couldn’t return them all. My bills didn’t get paid. My house was a mess. I bought every anti-clutter book out there, but they just became part of the clutter.” Her diagnosis was her salvation, now she deals with her life in a normal way, and put all the energy that ADHD gives her into her job as a sportscaster, “Though I wasn’t playing, I found myself feeling all the highs and lows of the game,” she says. “It was nice to still feel that. I may never be the best sportscaster out there, but life isn’t about being the best, with or without ADHD. It’s about meeting challenges and doing the best job you can. ADHD comes with certain strengths and weaknesses that have made me who I am, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”
Being diagnosed with ASD or ADHD must not be a limit for your kids to reach a dream career in a sport. Encourage them to pursue their dreams, make them put all their efforts and energies in the practices and games, and you will see the results very soon. Just remember to be there for them, and try to understand what they are trying to communicate, above all.
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