Skydiving is a wonderful sport. Jumpers come from all backgrounds and walks of life. There are numerous disciplines; skydivers can choose to jump with hundreds of other people, but alone is OK, too. Either way, the tie of skydiving unites jumpers worldwide. These qualities can make skydiving an especially wonderful sport for those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain.
People with ASD often have problems with social communication and interaction and restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests, and may also have different ways of learning, moving or paying attention. But in skydiving, we can each be unique without anyone blinking an eye. Skydiving is the sport that welcomes everyone!
A Wide Range
There are many different levels of autism, and people with it can range from being high functioning to needing substantial support. With the wide range of ASD attributes, it can be difficult to know if someone is on the spectrum. You may spend decades knowing someone—your doctor, your lawyer, your skydiving instructor—but never know they have ASD. Some on the spectrum may even go undiagnosed their whole lives.
- Some of the attributes of ASD include:
- Difficulty with social cues
- Avoiding direct eye contact
- Discomfort with physical contact
- Repetitive behaviors
- Have very specific interests
- Have specific routines
- Reluctance to engage in new experiences or to disrupt routines
- Stressed in social situations and may even have melt downs
Some of these attributes can affect the skydiving experience. The desire to avoid eye contact makes formation skydiving challenging. Those pre-jump handshakes meant to build camaraderie may be very unpleasant. Twitching and fiddling on the ride to altitude may be excessive. However, not all aspects of ASD have negative effects. Having very specific interests and routines can promote focus and even propel someone to a world-championship-level performance!
One jumper with ASD said, “The sport of skydiving has allowed me to appreciate how my mind wraps itself around things in a different way and has taught me to find workarounds instead of running from things.”
Not All People on the Spectrum are the Same!
People with ASD may experience very different symptoms. Some may even hide their symptoms. However, it can be helpful for those on the spectrum to open up to their friends, family and work colleagues. It can make a world of difference when the closest people to you know your struggles and how they can help, and you no longer need to mask yourself.
If you know someone who is or might be on the spectrum, you can try to help them by:
- Using concise and clear language
- Giving them extra time to respond to you
- Recognizing that your experience of something may differ from theirs
- Explaining clearly what you want and what you are going to do
- Recognizing that they may need time and space to be alone
- Not being offended if they are not welcoming of physical contact
Fortunately, the skydiving community has proven time and again that it is welcoming and accepting of people with all sorts of differences, and autism spectrum disorder is just one of those many variations. One skydiver with ASD remarked, “The skydiving community has given me, for the first time ever, the opportunity to truly be myself and get to know the part of me that had always been hidden under society’s ‘you have to be this way’ impositions. For the first time, I feel authentic and at home ... and that’s a lot!”
About the Author
Timothy Parrant, D-34622, is a skydiving instructor who holds ratings with the Australian Parachute Federation, British Skydiving and USPA. He is also a freefall photographer and canopy flight instructor with Alter Ego. Parrant has Asperger’s syndrome—a type of autism spectrum disorder—and is happy to speak with others about their own conditions and assist anyone who needs help. He can be reached at email@example.com.