For those who know me now, it may come as a shock that I wasn’t always the runner that I am today. In fact, I hated running in any form as a child and would do just about anything to avoid it. While it’s accepted that running can benefit just about anyone willing to give it a try that is particularly true of those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Personally, I have always been fascinated by running even before I became a runner myself. Endurance sports in general have been of particular interest to me including distance running, biking, and the Grand Daddy of them all, the triathlon. My interest in team sports such as baseball and football has declined rapidly in recent years. That is mostly due to the state of these sports and their respective leagues and the impact of greed, politics and over commercialization on each.
My serious infatuation with running really didn’t fully develop until I hit the age of 40. I found myself overweight and out of touch with fitness and I was looking for a way to get myself back in shape. My life began to quickly transform from a sedentary one to one that was very active. I was amazed not only by the physical benefits of daily exercise but by the mental benefits as well. As a matter of fact, I would argue that the mental benefits may equal or surpass their physical counterpart in many cases. For those on the Autism Spectrum, running may help them experience certain things that they may not be able to achieve in other areas of their daily lives. Studies suggest that running can help those with ASD overcome depression, social anxiety, loneliness, and hypersensitivity. In addition, it can also help their physical well-being as they may have a higher risk of obesity due to poor diet and lack of exercise. A poor diet was one of the contributing factors to my obesity and I was a sugar lover from the day I was born. I have since come to realize that some of my poor eating habits are the result of stress and food is my default coping mechanism. Understanding this fact has helped me break that pattern and employ alternate methods for coping with daily stress. Exercise and running in particular keeps any stress in check and it helps me live a more balanced life which is much more positive.
Running is a unique sport based not only on the individual component versus being part of a team but for the freedom that it provides. While other sports are rigid in format based on the number of innings or number of quarters or the fixed amount of time in the case of football or basketball, running is blessedly free of such restrictions. Racing provides a start and finish line and what happens between the two is entirely up to you. There honestly is no right or wrong way to run and to suggest otherwise would be uninformed. Not every runner in a race is there to win and winning isn’t the ultimate goal. Furthermore, I believe that winning a race doesn’t necessarily equate to finishing in the top three overall or the top three in your age category. You see, winning is a state of mind and it can be achieved by simply giving what we believe to be our best effort. Aside from the physical advantages of running, those on the Autism Spectrum may benefit from increased self-esteem and it can help them reach for other goals that may have seemed beyond their reach. The personal development for someone on the spectrum is decidedly more strenuous and complicated than for someone who is neurotypical, and as such, it is important to build on even the smallest of achievements. Every day with autism should be a step forward, and if you believe what I believe, that step forward should be done wearing a pair of funning shoes and chasing the miles. For those unable to appreciate the virtues of running, I would suggest getting out there and finding an alternative form of exercise and recreation. It’s a big world out there. Get out there and explore it!