He is, for the most part, a typical 12-year-old boy who loves his family, his pets, and music. People who know him describe him with words such as smart, caring, and energetic. People who may not know him, however, use a word that, instead of describing him, labels him. The word is autistic.
He is Tyler Carter, and while he may have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), commonly known as autism, he is much more than that limiting label. Diagnosed at age four, Tyler struggles with change, especially major changes in life, but also sometimes with even small changes in his daily routine.
On a rough day, even the changing of the route his mother drives home can trigger an episode. “Everything has a routine, especially nights and evenings. It is important to set and follow that routine” explains Kristen Carter, Tyler's mother. “A change in routine can potentially disrupt the next few days or week.”
When the episodes occur in public places, all that matters is calming Tyler down, not the sometimes unkind stares and comments of passersby. “Most people don't realize what is happening,” Kristen said. “They just think he is having a temper tantrum. Some people even say things. Their whole demeanor changes when I explain he has autism, but we don't want sympathy, we want understanding.”
Tyler is a happy, usually smiling young man who attends Mexico Middle School. Perhaps people should use a different word to describe Tyler, a word that reflects one of the greatest loves of his life: swimmer. At age six, Tyler was swimming in a friend's backyard pool when his mother realized he seemed at ease in the water. He enjoyed being in the water and moving his arms and legs. For Tyler, swimming was and is still a great form of therapy.
Heartened by Tyler's new found interest, his parents contacted the Special Olympics to see how they could help Tyler. He began training with the Special Olympics Swim Team just past the age of 7 and started competing at age 8.
He swam his first few races in the 10 meter assisted division, meaning he swam with a life jacket, but now competes in the 100 meter backstroke and 100 meter freestyle unassisted divisions.
He usually medals in these events, but that is not why he races; he simply loves to swim. “He doesn't worry about medals, he just swims” his mother said. “He loves the crowd and their reactions.”
Tyler, as part of the Special Olympics Swim Team, will help The University of Missouri Swim Team open its swim season today when he swims in an opening race.
The event will be a family affair. Having a child with autism in the family changes the family dynamic. Tyler is strongly supported by every member of his family. His younger sister Whitney, who participates alongside Tyler as a unified partner, (a family member or friend of the participant who does not compete but is there for support), will swim with Tyler at this event. As a whole Tyler's family is very much involved with the Special Olympics program, especially the Polar Bear Plunge held each winter.
Page 2 of 2 - Like most parents, Tyler's have hopes and dreams for him as he grows older. One is, if he wants it, that Tyler continues swimming and goes on to compete at the national level or even beyond. If that dreams becomes a reality, Tyler will certainly have lived up to one label while going beyond the other.
For more information on autism, please visit the Autism Speaks website (http://www.autismspeaks.org).