(Guest Post by Allie Gleason from EducatorLabs)
If someone were to ask me why I love swimming so much, I would tell them about how much it has boosted my confidence. And that’s a big deal coming from me. As a kid, my Asperger’s made it difficult for me to make friends. I was very self-conscious but often didn’t know what I needed to do to fit in with my peers.
And then came swimming. My parents put me in swimming lessons as more of a safety precaution than anything else. But it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with it. Eventually, it was hard to keep me out of the water.
There are many reasons swimming has given me such a confidence boost, but one major reason is that it has made me stronger—physically and mentally–which has improved my overall wellbeing.
There’s certainly no reason other young people with Asperger’s can’t experience the benefits I’ve had from swimming. Here are a few ways I’ve used my time in the pool to get stronger and in turn get a big boost to my confidence.
Swimming laps. I swam regularly throughout middle school, but when I entered high school, I joined my school’s swim team. Going to regular swim practices has really helped me build muscle strength in my arms, legs, and core. And as this article on aquatic therapy for kids with autism reports, a study found that swim training helped improve “hand grip [and] upper and lower extremity muscle strength” in kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Toning exercises. I love to swim. I would swim laps for hours if my body could handle it. But sometimes even I need a break. My swim coach recommended doing water aerobic-style exercises whenever I’m burnout on doing laps. One of my teammates from the swim team and I found these toning exercises and decided to try them out one Saturday at the pool. We turned on some music and went through the whole workout. It was a lot of fun. And the great thing about it is it includes videos. I’m a visual learner so that made it a lot easier for me to understand what movement I was supposed to be doing and to ensure I was doing it correctly.
Stretches. The act of swimming strengthens and lengthens your muscles but that doesn’t mean you should skip stretching. This article on getting fit in the water from Portland, Oregon’s Parks & Recreation Department offers a side stretch and a full body stretch. When I first started swimming, I was not big on stretching. As a result, my muscles were always really sore. My swim coach taught me the importance of properly stretching after any exercise. So, if you’re a young person who’s just starting out with your swim routine, don’t forget to stretch!
Relaxation exercises. One of the most unexpected and gratifying benefits of being in the water has been the calming effect it has on me. And it is yet another reason I think swimming, specifically, is so great for kids and teens with Asperger’s and autism. A day at school for a young person on the autism spectrum can be stressful and sometimes disheartening. For me, especially on those bad days, being in the water is an escape from the stress of my day. Honestly, I think simply floating around does the trick, but if you’re looking for more structured water relaxation exercises, GoodRelaxation.com has some great suggestions.
Swimming has improved my overall wellbeing significantly. And now that I feel better physically, I feel better about myself, too. Having more confidence has made it easier for me to make friends and to not be so hard on myself when I’m having trouble relating to my peers.
# # #
Allie Gleason, a teen with Asperger’s Syndrome, attends high school student and in her free time works as a volunteer-intern-extraordinaire at EducatorLabs. She is a cheerleader for all those affected by ASD.