Sunday, July 29, 2012

Olympics with Autism

People/kids on the spectrum are not usually known for being very athletic. Since the Olympics have started, I wondered if there were any athletes that were on the spectrum.
When you are high-functioning, you can become hyper-focused on something, and that would work to your advantage if it is a specific sport, or your training, or your need to succeed or be the best. So I've researched until my eyes are bleeding and I'll tell you, either their disorders are not their or they're a tightly kept secret! There are some, however, that I have uncovered...


  • Sir Roger Bannister was a British runner...in fact, the first to run a mile in under 4 minutes. He was also a noted neurologist and Master of Pembroke College, England. During the Helsinki Olympics in 1952, he came in 4th, setting a British record. In his autiobiography, "The Four Minute Mile," he reveals several things about himself that could lead one to believe that he may have had Asperger's Syndrome.  He had a fascination with things that moved; he had a desire to run rather than walk, feeling like he had "springs in his knees;" he lived very much in his own world; was prone to being the "absent minded professor" type, was untidy, and had the messiest room with his friends in the Olympic village in 1952.
  • Paavo Nurmi was another runner, but from Finland. He started his Olympic in 1920 during the Antwerp, Belgium Olympics. After competing in 4 events, he won 3 medals. In 1924, Nurmi competed in the Paris Olympics...winning 5 gold medals in 5 events. He ended his Olympic career in 1928 at the Amsterdam, Netherlands Olympics. There, he won 2 silver medals. He was disqualified for the next Olympics because he had accepted money for travel and training expenses. After this he became bitter. His running cost him his marriage and his attitude of he is right and they are wrong, cost him his running career. Although he was never officially diagnosed, it is highly suspected that he had Asperger's and that heped him have the determination needed to win all those medals.
  • There are also parents of autistic children who just happen to by Olympic athletes. I found a great article on Bloom (a blog about parenting kids with special needs) about Canadian Olympian Silken Laumann, who is step-parent to daughter, Kilee, 16, who has autism. Silken is one of Canada's greatest Olympians, winning 2 silvers and a bronze medal for rowing. In 2010, she became a special needs parent. Although Silken was already a parent to 2 children, she was not prepared for what it was going to be like. She believed that anything could be achieved with hard work, and when Kilee would have outburts, she would get mad at her husband, wanting him to set more boundaries and discipline more. Through time, patience and understanding, she now realizes that they are in this together and they have the strength to make it through. She has discovered that life is more than just achieving, it is about being present. It is not just about control, just about being opening up every day to the wonders that life present to you. This is a very inspirational post/interview and I encourage you to check it out.
Most people with Asperger's or Autism or more likely to be found in a creative field like art, music, or behind a computer screen...but it is possible to focus that hyper-focus that they sometimes experience into a sport. Of course, it would most likely be in an individual event...biking, running, swimming, etc. If your child has an interest, by all means, encourage them. Just because they have a diagnosis it doesn't mean they have to stop doing something they are interested in and it certainly doesn't mean they can't succeed! 

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