What Swimming Can Do When You Have Asperger's

June 9, 2015
Two people engaged in conversation in a office

I’ve never been more proud of myself than I was two months ago. Though I’ve been swimming for a while and have been on the swim team since I started high school, I had never won a race. And honestly, that had never really bothered me. I enjoy being a part of the team and getting to spend time in the water after school every day. Those experiences mean much more to me than winning.
But then it happened. I popped out of the water at the end of my 400-meter free-style and couldn’t believe my eyes. I had come in first! It really was a wonderful feeling and my teammates made it even better. I think they were just as excited as I was.

That day was very special, and I’ll never forget it. But it was one day in many that swimming has made better. I’d like to share how swimming has given me a mental boost, in case other kids or teens with Asperger Syndrome are wondering if swimming is right for them.

Honestly, sometimes when I’m in the middle of a race I forget that that’s even what I’m doing. I just swim and swim and swim and when I do, I tune out everything around me. I recently read the reason for this is that swimming can actually put you into a kind of meditation in the water. The Self Reflecting Pool, an article in The New York Times, does a great job of describing this feeling. It even talks about how Michael Phelps, who was diagnosed with ADHD as a child, said, “being in the pool slowed down my mind.”

I can definitely relate.

In fact, one of the reasons my parents put me in swim lessons in the first place was to give me an outlet for some of my nervous energy. Swimming has been a major part of keeping me calm and relaxed ever since.

Less anxiety
Before swimming, I was often very anxious, especially in situations where I had to be around a lot of people. This guide, which provides a great list of benefits of aquatic therapy for kids with autism, explains that swimming does actually reduce anxiety. When I first started swimming, I think it helped reduce my anxiety because I enjoyed the physical feeling of being in the water and the sounds the water made. And while I still enjoy those things today, I think it makes me feel less anxious because it’s something I’m good at. I feel confident in the pool, and before swimming, very few things made me feel that way.

When I was younger I remember feeling very frustrated a lot of the time. I desperately wanted to make a friend, and I didn’t understand why none of the kids at school were interested in being friends with me. It caused me to be angry. And sometimes it didn’t take much for me to lose my temper. This article from MyAspergersChild.com does a good job of explaining how I used to feel. Once I started swimming, I was able to manage my anger and frustration a lot better. In fact, I’d feel really positive when I got out of the pool. And today, getting to swim with my teammates makes me feel great all the time.

Swimming has changed my life in so many positive ways. I’m physically stronger, but I know I’m mentally stronger as well. If you’re the parent of a child with Asperger Syndrome or if you’re a kid or teen with Asperger Syndrome, I highly recommend jumping in the pool. It really can change your life.

Allie Gleason, a teen with Asperger's Syndrome, is part high school student, part volunteer-intern-extraordinaire at EducatorLabs, part cheerleader for all those affected by ASD. Writing has become a huge outlet for her; she appreciates you taking the time to read her article!

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