Sailing is my world, it's my everything, and it is where I am happiest. It creates more parts of me for the better.”
When you're in an office or a classroom or even your own house, you can feel that sense of being "trapped". Even visiting your local pub with your friends can leave you feeling a little bit tied up and you long for freedom. But when sailing comes along you rapidly come out of that trapped feeling and you're then a completely new person to how most people know you. You have become "yourself".
Sailing is my world, it's my everything, and it is where I am happiest. It creates more parts of me for the better.
When I started sailing, I hated it! I hated the boat heeling over when going upwind. I used to think downwind was nicer and used to ask if we could have the spinnaker up all the time, but then we broached! As time went on, I started loving it. It was the only sport that I began to make friends of my own age and indeed, friends who did not judge me for being autistic. Through the years, it grew into my biggest passion and any sailing event were the highlights of my summer holidays.
Sailing helps me challenge myself. I manage nerves, tiredness, I rely on my crew, I focus, concentrate and think quickly. I push myself. I used to say to my crew ‘hold off putting the kite up’, but now I call for it the moment we are round the windward mark because I know we’ve practiced it and thought it all through.
I am proud that much of what I learnt in the early days I taught myself, but I have learnt a huge amount from my sailing heroes, from coaches and instructors. The best of them have been calm, clear and had what we are going to do. There is constant communication and reassurance. They take the time to prepare me for big races with practice, practice, practice. They encourage me to think ahead and work out what might need changing on the boat – something that can be hard for an autistic person to do. They have spoken slowly, explained things more than once, have physically shown me what to do, written down tips and used pictures to help.
Sailing can be a very sensory environment – just to touch the water may be a challenge for an autistic person but there are so many benefits – from problem solving skills to learning to accept reassurance from others. People think autistic people aren’t good in a but sailing has given me the confidence to be part of the team on and off the water.
I hope this guide helps volunteers, instructors and coaches see what they can do differently to help autistic people become sailors. If you are open from the start, things can work .
Autism on the Water