Hello everyone. I hope you are enjoying the beginning of summer. We have something great to share with you. High school student, Kathleen, reached out to us after taking a look through our awareness-related articles. She wrote to us from Educator Labs where she is volunteering to speak out for Asperger’s Syndrome. Along with her research there, she is also creating an outreach program to share resources to empower others to overcome their obstacles. We felt it was a worthy cause and are delighted to share her story.
If you’ve ever been bullied, you know how humiliating it can be. Even though you’ve done nothing wrong, you end up feeling ashamed, inadequate, and isolated.
That’s how it was for me during my freshman year of high school when two factors converged to make me an easy target. First, when I entered high school I was around a lot more people who didn’t know me and who didn’t understand my Asperger’s. They saw someone who wasn’t like them and singled me out.
Second, during the summer leading up to freshman year and during freshman year, I gained several pounds. I had always been prone to a sedentary lifestyle. In fact, this is common among kids with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome and may be a factor that contributes to the high rate of obesity within the population. Because I wasn’t good at playing sports and I didn’t like exercising, I was always much more content reading a book or watching TV. Then, when middle school ended so did my required PE. It had been the only real exercise I was getting each week.
In high school, the kids who weren’t familiar with me thought I was odd. They’d pick on me because of the hand-wringing and clasping motions I often made and because of my weight.
Soon, just as I had begged my parents not to make me participate in PE when I was younger, I would now ask them if I could stay home sick from school. I even tried to convince my mom to start homeschooling me.
After a trip to the doctor revealed that I could now be classified as “overweight,” upon the recommendation of my doctor, my mom began taking me regularly to swim at the local YMCA. I had learned to swim when I was little, and while I liked being in the water, it was never something I had a deep desire to do. But it didn’t take long for all that to change. After those first trips to the YMCA, I fell in love with swimming. I began to feel better physically and mentally, and on really difficult days it gave me something to look forward to. Here are a few of the ways swimming helped me overcome being bullied:
- It gave me something to achieve. My mom was completely on board with me losing my excess weight, but she didn’t want me to become focused on achieving a certain weight. So, instead I set different goals for my swimming. For example, I’d set a goal to for swimming a certain number of laps without stopping or to beat a previous time. Having swimming helped me focus on something that I really enjoyed instead of lingering on what certain kids at school said about me.
- It helped reduce repetitive motions. Swimming regularly certainly helped me get back to a healthy weight. But it was another physical change that helped boost my self-esteem. With autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, repetitive motions such as hand flapping, or in my case, hand clasping are common. But as this guide on aquatic therapy explains, exercise can help reduce those motions. I think swimming and getting other exercise helped me relax a little. I was less anxious and therefore needed to comfort myself with those motions less often. And while kids continued to make fun of me for it, I knew that I had been working hard and that my motions were less noticeable. That gave me a much-needed self-esteem boost.
- It offered me a safe haven. Swimming has many benefits, and they aren’t all physical. In fact, for me, some of the most helpful side effects of swimming more often have been mental. In an article on the many different kinds of benefits of swimming, U.S. Masters Swimming lists a few of the mental benefits.
One, in particular, stands out for me: “Offers relaxation through the repetitive nature of movement.” Once I get in my rhythm many of my worries about school and being bullied drift away. The water has become somewhat of a safe haven for me. A place where I can just be, without worrying about what someone else might say about me. It has played an important role in helping me move past the negative feelings that being bullied caused me to have.
This is my story, but it isn’t necessarily unique. Many kids with Asperger’s Syndrome are made fun of or bullied by their peers. I want them to know that they shouldn’t lose hope. For me the pool has become my refuge. Find a similar place or activity that provides you the kind of comfort I get from swimming. It will help you make huge progress in getting over being bullied.
Kathleen Carter is a teen living with Asperger’s Syndrome. She enjoys educating her peers and others about AS. Recently, she began writing proudly about how her experiences differ from other people her age. She is so grateful to have the opportunity to write for EducatorLabs.