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accessibility Achievement Additional Needs and Disabilities ADHD Celebrities Inspirational People SEND Stigma

In at the Deep End: How ADHD Shaped the Success of Michael Phelps

Michael Fred Phelps is famous throughout the world for his legendary abilities whilst swimming. Phelps is, by far, the most successful Olympian of all time with 28 Olympic medals of which 23 are Gold. Phelps also has several world records relating to swimming and is the fastest human being alive in the water. Phelps has achieved this success for many reasons, not least being his own hard work and dedication, as well as having a body especially suited for high water mobility. But another factor that may have allowed Phelps to reach such success, much to the surprise of many, may be his ADHD. Phelps was diagnosed with the condition when he was a child, and some believe that this diagnosis played a role in making him such a world class athlete. In examining how ADHD has affected Phelps, we may learn to see Disability in a rather different light.

“I simply couldn’t sit still, because it was difficult for me to focus on one thing at a time”

– Michael Phelps, from his book Beneath the Surface

ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a condition that causes many behaviours that are unusual in the rest of the population. Commonly observed behaviours include restlessness, short attention span, and difficulty focusing. Many people consider ADHD to be purely negative, but many people with the condition themselves see it quite differently. For instance, ADDA, an self-advocacy group run by people with the condition, argue that ADHD is worthy of being celebrated. Whilst living with ADHD may present challenges, ADDA argues that the condition can in fact have its advantages and should be better thought of as simply a different way of having a mind. This might sound strange at first, but in Michael Phelps there may be an incredible example of this idea in action.

Historically, ADHD was understood as an inability to focus but more modern research suggests that it may in fact be a lack of control on what the brain focuses on. This is why ADHD people often exhibit a trait called ‘Hyperfocus’, where they focus intensely and singly on one thing, often for hours at a time. The theory goes that ADHD people often have a far stronger ability to focus than so called ‘Neurotypicals’ (those without ADHD) do. The problems come when an ADHD person has to focus on one thing when around them are ten or twenty distractions to drag their attention from. Most people have the ability to forcefully draw themselves back to the object of their focus and resist distractions, but without this many ADHD people struggle to stick to one thing long enough to make meaningful progress. With that said, picture child Michael Phelps in a swimming pool. Whilst in a classroom he might struggle to sit and do his work because of all the distractions, in the pool, with nothing to focus on but the water, his mind can intensely focus for hours on end. This allows Phelps to practice far longer and maintain focus far longer than his neurotypical coevals. Becoming a world star athlete requires spending many hours of each day practicing, but it also requires being able to remain attentive to technique even after hours of practice. Its possible that it is because and not in spite of, Phelps’ Disability that he has been able to take on the entire world in his chosen sport, and definitively triumph.

Michael Phelps Video: ADHD and What I would tell my Younger Self

Video Description: Michael Phelps talks to the camera about what he would tell his younger self and what it was like growing up with ADHD. Video has closed captions.

About Theo!

“Hi! My name’s Theo Greiner and I work in the Web and Digital Services Team at Surrey County Council. I’m also on the Autism spectrum and use that experience to write articles on accessibility on behalf of the Council to get people thinking about Accessibility and Disability. I write in hopes of shifting people’s ideas about Disability towards ones that treat Disabled people with the respect and agency they deserve. I hope you enjoy them.”

Categories
Additional Needs and Disabilities Autism Personal Story SEND

My ASD

What is ASD?

People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) experience the world differently. They have different strengths and weakness and they may behave differently to the people around them. Everyone with ASD is different!

My diagnosis

My mum and me were receiving support from White Lodge because I was finding it very hard to communicate and I was having ‘moments’. For me, moments are when I struggle with a lot of things and I get frustrated. The staff at White Lodge recommended that we see a doctor that they knew, who diagnosed me with ASD when I was 3 and half years old, which was very helpful.

Girls with ASD are underdiagnosed because they don’t meet people’s expectations due to stereotypes. My mum did not anticipate my diagnosis with ASD.

My life has changed quite a bit since I was diagnosed. Obviously not everyone has ASD, I am aware that I am quite different to other people. In my experience there are both positive and negative impacts of having ASD.

Positive impacts

  • I am different to other people
    • It would be boring if we were all the same!
  • I think about problems differently and come up with different solutions.
  • I express myself differently to others
    • Some people with ASD communicate differently. For example, some people can’t use their voice.
    • I speak three languages to help me communicate: spoken English, sign language (Makaton/British Sign Language), using feelings boards/bracelets/cards.
  • Due to my experiences in life and my participation in ATLAS, I am able to appreciate other people’s perspectives.
  • When I speak to people that I know well, I have a lot to share about my interests and experiences
    • I know a lot about sensory toys!

Negative impacts

  • I find it hard to make eye-contact
    • People might not think I am talking to them or that I am talking to somebody else if I don’t make eye contact.
  • I find it hard to keep a conversation, for example to keep focus and keep on subject.
  • I find it hard to manage my feelings, emotions and thoughts.
  • Loud noises, crowds, small spaces, lock rooms, flashing lights and the dark are difficult for me to cope with.
    • Flashing lights can include discos lights and even emergency vehicles!
  • I am very sensitive to touch.
    • I don’t tend to like people touching me, it feels uncomfortable. I don’t always know if people are going to be gentle and nice when they touch me and that makes me anxious.
  • Transport can be difficult because I don’t like long journeys.
    • All the sounds and people can be overwhelming.
    • Sometimes people come too close when I am travelling.
  • It can be difficult to speak to people that I don’t know.

Final thoughts

When you meet someone with additional needs, such as ASD, you shouldn’t make assumptions because you don’t know that person.

Categories
Additional Needs and Disabilities Personal Story Self-Description SEND

A week in the life of an ATLAS member

Recently ATLAS members have been discussing what new starters to the group might want to know before their first session!

A member of the group who joined recently suggested that having some information about what the group could be like or what was involved would have been really helpful.

Together, members made a mind map to express what they thought a week as a member may include!

A screenshot of a mind map on "Week in the life of an ATLAS member". The text in the image is written below as it is hard to read due to the low resolution.
A screenshot of the mind map made by ATLAS members

The mind map reads:

  • Really enjoyable
  • Trips
  • Talk about our wellbeing
  • Action Cards
  • Surveys
  • Awards
  • Meeting new people/friends
  • Weekly groups
  • Social media posts
  • Raising awareness
  • Reducing stigma
  • Sharing your experiences
  • Makaton/learning new skills
  • Quizzes
  • Writing blogs
  • Interview panels
  • Parties/social events
  • Routine
  • Support if we need
  • Gaining confidence
  • Learn about other opportunities

If you would like to read some of the feedback and consultation work that member’s of ATLAS work on, you can find out more on our ‘Monthly News‘ page!

Please check out our ‘Get Involved‘ page if you are interested in joining ATLAS.

Image button encouraging you to get involved. In the middle there is the ATLAS logo and surrounding it, It reads: Get Involved! "No Decision About Us Without Us!
Categories
Autism Celebrities Inspirational People SEND

Satoshi Tajiri: how autism inspired Pokémon

Satoshi Tajiri is Japanese and born August 28, 1965. He is the creator of Pokémon which became a huge global success and he has Autism.

When Satoshi Tajiri was a young boy, he loved to explore the outdoors and was really interested with insects. He loved to collect insects, looking for them in ponds, fields and forests, constantly trying to find new insects and coming up with different ways to catch insects such as beetles. He had such an interest in collecting and studying insects that he earned the nickname “Dr. Bug” among other children and friends.

In the late 1970s, the fields and ponds that Tajiri loved as a child were used to build apartment buildings and shopping centres. At this time, Tajiri’s passion for insects moved to video games and arcades. Because of his new obsession captured so much of his time and attention that he actually cut classes and wound up flunking high school.

His parents were concerned; they actually didn’t understand his obsession with games and thought he was a delinquent throwing his life away. He eventually took make-up classes and got his high school diploma, but he only did a two year stint at the Tokyo National College of Technology studying computer science and electronics.

In the early 1990s was when Tajiri first saw two children playing together with Game Boys using the Game Link Cable. He imagined insects crawling along the cable between the two systems. As he thought about the uses of the Game Link Cable, his idea for Pokémon grew, as he wanted to give modern children the chance to hunt for creatures as he did as a child.

He pitched the idea for Pokémon to Nintendo, and although they didn’t fully understand the concept of the game, he was given some initial funding anyway. Tajiri spent the next six years working on Pokémon. Shigeru Miyamoto, the man behind Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Pikmin, and Donkey Kong, was assigned to help in the development of the initial versions of Pocket Monsters, Red and Green. While working on the game Tajiri came to admire Miyamoto as a mentor. As a tribute to Miyamoto and Tajiri, the main character of the original games and his rival have “Satoshi” and “Shigeru” among their default names.

After six years of development, Pokémon Red and Green Versions were completed. Although the Game Boy’s hardware was becoming outdated, the game still grew steadily in popularity because younger children could not afford brand-new console games so they turned to the inexpensive Game Boy games.

The success of Pokémon led to various manga adaptations, an anime, and more Pokémon games and spinoff games.

Satoshi has gone on record saying that he wanted the games to give children the same joy as he had during his bug collecting.  People with autism tend to take up collecting as a hobby, so Satoshi gave them and everyone else a gift that only he could create: a whole new thing to collect.

While Mr. Satoshi Tajiri has confirmed that he has ASD, he does not publicly talk about his condition and would rather remain away from the spotlight, focusing on work and on pursuing his own interests above fame and fortune.

Categories
accessibility Additional Needs and Disabilities Dyslexia Personal Story SEND

Dyslexia

What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is an Additional Need and Disability (AN&D).

5% to 10% of the population have it. It is the most common specific learning difficulty. It is something that runs in families and is a lifelong disability. It is something you learn strategies to help you cope with, so people think you outgrow it, but you just learn to live with it.

Dyslexia is not just about muddling letters: it is when you struggle with spelling, confuse your letters (for example b and d), or may have difficulties reading, as you are not able to recognise sounds. Sometimes dyslexics come across as lazy or slow, as some struggle with following instructions.

Dyslexics find problem solving more easily than others – they think out of the box. Many dyslexics have high IQs and are incredibly clever people.
A myth is that dyslexics see letters moving around when black print is on white paper. That is visual stress. Although a lot of people with dyslexia have it, you can have visual stress without dyslexia.

Coloured overlays are not a cure for dyslexia, they help people with visual stress.

How to learn spellings

Depending on how your brain works, there are various spelling strategies, I found. Rainbow writing works the best for me. You learn each syllable in a different colour and then put it to one word.

An example list of words written using the rainbow writing technique for learning how to spell.
Example of Rainbow Writing

If you begin to remember spellings this way, try look, cover, write, check – you literally do as it says.

Staying on track with written work.

I find it hard to plan my work in my head and get it written down. I can talk all about a project, what I am going to do. However, when it comes to getting it on paper, I just can’t do it. A tool I have learnt is to ‘Mind map’ my ideas.

Example of a Mind Map. The central topic is in the middle with lines leading to subtopics and then lines from those to related ideas.
An example of a mind map

Start with the topic in the middle, then ideas coming off for each chapter and ideas off of each of those until I have the base details down, you can do each area in different colours if it helps. Then number them so you know what order to write it in.

General Day to Day Challenges

Because my brain has to work so hard, I can find it hard to concentrate for long periods of time and then when I get a break, I do tend to go a little crazy – just to unwind and relax.

My friends sometimes get angry with me, as I can take things very personally and then I get upset – it’s just how my brain works.

I’m not very organised, so I need help packing my school bag (amongst other things), otherwise I will forget things I need. Don’t give me a list of instructions, my brain can only cope with 2 instructions at a time, otherwise I will forget almost everything you have asked me to do – write it down, so I can do it and tick it off.

People used to call me stupid, thick, lazy or idiot – I now know that’s not true!

Things I Am Good At

I am a really good problem solver, I come up with solutions that many people wouldn’t have considered, I think out of the box – this is a skill that many businesses are looking for, so I am hopeful this will help me be successful when I am older.

Maths is an area that I do really well with, I think it’s my problem solving that helps me out.

Many people comment that I am kind and caring, I believe this is because, how I see the world and others, I know how I get treated, so ensure that I don’t treat people that way.

I have a higher than average IQ, many of the world’s most successful people are dyslexic – Richard Branson, Albert Einstein, our Health Minister – Matt Hancock, Tom Cruise and many more.

Before I found the SYAS team, I wouldn’t take part in a class assembly, however since I have been a member, it has boosted my confidence and I am more than happy to speak up and speak my mind, without worrying about how others see me.

The positives and negatives of Dyslexia

The word Dyslexia is draw out
Drawing of the word Dyslexia

Negatives:

  • My brain works much harder than most people’s
  • I’m not lazy, I just need more time to process what you are asking
  • I take things really personally
  • You need to give my instructions in small steps

Positives:

  • I think outside the box
  • I’m really good at maths
  • I’m a good problem solver
  • I have a higher than average IQ
  • I tend to do the right thing
  • I’m creative
  • Some of the world’s most successful people are Dyslexic
  • Thanks to ATLAS – I’m happy to do public speaking!