Athletes with Autistic Spectrum Disorders


Sports Achievements of Those with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome

Contrary to popular belief, autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) do not preclude athletic achievement, though athletes with ASD tend to prefer individual physical pursuits to team sports. Sports in which those with ASD have excelled include running, swimming, surfing, martial arts, and archery.

The following examples indicate what can be achieved when an athletic activity becomes the special interest of an individual with an autistic spectrum disorder. Many credit the achievements of these athletes to the intense focus, penchant for routine, and in some cases, unique cognitive abilities that come with ASD.

Running

Anthony Crudale, a competitive marathon runner, was diagnosed with autism at 18 months old and didn’t speak until the age of four. Crudale has overcome numerous obstacles, achieving a university degree in art. His interests include heavy metal music and long-distance running.

Those who don't have a good understanding of autism often assume that Crudale been misdiagnosed due to his apparent intelligence. This tanned, fit young man does not match the stereotypical view of those with ASD. Crudale runs 115 miles each week and does weight training at a nearby fitness center. He has a few friends, but spends much of his time on his own by choice. The ASD tendency to maintain routines ensures that Crudale trains intensely and regularly.

Crudale isn’t the only successful marathon runner on the autistic spectrum. Andrew Bryant is another ASD running star. Doctors had little hope for Bryant when he received his autism diagnosis as a child, but the 25-year-old high school graduate is now employed and has won numerous medals for marathon running. His speed has put him among the most elite runners in the world.

Yet another accomplished runner on the autistic spectrum is Jonathan Brunot, a New York City Marathon medal winner. The handsome, profoundly autistic 19-year-old required six years to learn how to tie his shoes and has mastered only a few words. Brunot did not initially take to running when his mother tried to encourage it early on, but later it became a special interest. Through running, Brunot has become extremely fit and far less hyperactive, and his athletic ability has been described as “off the charts.”

Alex Bain, another award-winning autistic athlete, runs to raise awareness of and acceptance for autism. In addition to completing a full marathon, notable achievements include running from one end of Prince Edward Island to the other. Bain has a positive view of autism, and is comfortable with the fact that he is different from his friends.

Martial Arts

C.J. Moore, an autistic high school student on the less severe end of the spectrum, is a taekwondo black belt who has won eight trophies. Moore acts as a mentor for younger taekwondo students.

When he first started training, Moore didn’t believe that he could be successful in the sport, but he has since reached a level of success beyond that of most non-autistic students. Moore trains five days a week for two-and-a-half hours per session. He credits taekwondo with improving his social skills and helping him to make eye contact.

Surfing

Despite the discomfort he feels in leaving his familiar comfort zones to travel, which forces him to deal with crowds and airplanes, Clay Marzo, a brilliant surfer with Asperger’s syndrome (a mild version of autism) braves such journeys to obtain new surfing experiences. Previously a State Champion swimmer, Marzo shifted his intense focus to surfing and subsequently won several NSSA national surfing titles. It has been speculated that Marzo’s Asperger’s syndrome may be the reason for his unique abilities.

Marzo walked when he was just seven months old, without even crawling as an intermediate step. Graduating through a serious of hyper-focused obsessions, which included sea shells and sea life, he was once misdiagnosed as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Inclined to shut out the world with headphones, Marzo is only completely at ease when he is near or on the ocean. This is not uncommon among those on the autistic spectrum, many of whom find the ocean therapeutic. Considered the world’s best surfer, Marzo has appeared in a number of surf movies and supports the Surfer’s Healing Foundation, which enriches the lives of autistic children through surfing.

Other Sports

Other accomplished athletes on the autistic spectrum include 15-year-old Olympic archery champion Kyle Cramer; Greece Athena High School basketball coach Jason McElwain, who scored 20 points in the last four minutes of an important game; and medal-winning swimmer Tommy Eliopoulos, who was once afraid to go in the water.

Those with ASD are a diverse population, and there is no particular athletic pursuit that is perfect for all those with ASD. Informal surveys of athletic interests suggest that a wide variety of sports can potentially become special interests, though individual or solitary sports are more often favoured. And of course, as with neurotypicals (people without ASD), there are those who naturally dislike physical activities of any sort.

Further Reading

For more information on autistic spectrum disorders, see:

References

  • AutismConnect.org. (24 July 2006). “Swimmer with Asperger’s Syndrome Wins Two Gold Medals at Special Olympics.”
  • Chew, Kristina. (12 May 2008). “Shooting Straight.” AutismVox.com.
  • Coen, Jon. (24 October 2008). “Feat of Clay.” ESPN.go.com.
  • Finn, Robin. (14 November 2008). “Autistic Teenager Runs, and Makes Strides.” The New York Times, NYTimes.com.
  • iRun.com. (January 2009). “Inspiring, Moving, Empowering: 2009 iRun Awards.”
  • McNerthney, Casey. (January 2009). “Autistic Marathon Runner Races Past Expectations.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SeattlePI.com.
  • Raia, James. (3 December 2008). “Running with Autism: The Anthony Crudale Story.” ByJamesRaia.com (originally published in Runners World Magazine).
  • Skalski, Liz. (18 September 2008). “Taekwondo Helps Teen Become a Mentor.” The Washington Post, WashingtonPost.com.
  • Woodson, Rick. (1 March 2006). “Autistic Athlete Redefines What Sports Is All About.” The Daily News, TDN.com.

© Jennifer Copley

Jan 22, 2009

The copyright of the article Athletes with Autistic Spectrum Disorders in Autism/Asperger's Syndrome is owned by Jennifer Copley. Permission to republish Athletes with Autistic Spectrum Disorders in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.



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