" I Conquered Asperger's and now help others."
Founder Jeremy Samson, 35, turned his tough childhood experience into a learning program for autistic kids.
"As a kid, I had trouble understanding sarcasm or jokes. Mum would say, ‘It's raining cats and dogs,' and I'd respond, ‘No, it's not – I don't see cats or dogs falling from the sky.' Sometimes the curious way my brain worked got me into trouble. A boy would say, ‘Hey, see that brick? Throw it at that car.' I'd do as I was told and afterwards try to figure out if it was the right or wrong thing to do. I was bullied and my behaviour deteriorated so I'd do things like bang my head on the ground. Eventually, tests revealed why I found life so difficult: I had Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism.
Mum and Dad were brilliant. They ensured teachers were informed and encouraged me to do drama and sport to build confidence and coordination. I had a diet free of sugar, gluten, wheat and food colouring and was placed on an exercise program developed in the US to help with multitasking, cross-pattern movements and fine motor skills.
I left school able to fit in and grateful to those who'd helped me appreciate my uniqueness. It inspired me to find a profession that helped others be their best, so I became a personal trainer.
At 18, it was hard getting enough clients so I also worked as a gym membership consultant. One day, a couple asked if there was any chance of signing their 12-year-old son Toby up to the gym. He was a bit overweight but too young to join the gym so they asked if I knew how to help him. "He has Asperger's," they added. "Oh, so do I," I said as I continued taking notes and serving people. They watched me multitasking, something Aspies [people with Asperger's] usually struggle with, clearly taken aback. "Can you help us?" they asked.
I said I'd give it a go. I took Toby to a local oval, where I coached him through a program that incorporated exercises I'd done as a kid, plus extras like eye-hand coordination and memory training. I made them challenging but fun and within two months his movements, balance and coordination were improving. He told me it had changed his life – he felt more confident, he fitted in at school better and his concentration had improved. He also liked having a role model who has Asperger's.
I realised I was onto something and when Fitness First heard about it they agreed to let me use their gyms for my programs.
The Time 2 Train program reached the attention of Australian Asperger's expert Professor Tony Attwood, who told me it could have great benefits not only in terms of emotion management and fitness – Asperger's children often appear clumsy and uncoordinated, so they tend to avoid sport – but also in clarity of thoughts and concentration.
I believe it works because the kids see that I'm doing so well. No one would guess I have Asperger's and struggled as a kid. I tell the children I work with, "Sometimes life doesn't go so well, but if you can have control of what you're doing, you'll find it a lot easier."
-- TOBY - Jeremy's First Student
"Training with Jeremy gave me confidence"
Jeremy's first client, Toby Boulton, is now 17 (2009), in Year 11 and studying for his VCEs, and hoping for a career in web technology. He says his two years of training with Jeremy helped him in many ways: "I got fitter and lost weight, of course, but it also helped my confidence. I was able to talk to people and look them in the eye, and I fitted in better at school. Now no one would know I have Asperger's.
Just Another Boy
By Jeremy Samson - 27/9/2021
As a young six-year-old boy diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, I understood the world as a unique, creative and, at times, very strange place. I was extremely fascinated by objects around me. Each new discovery would capture my attention and I was easily distracted by the beauties of everyday life. From watching water go round and round in the bathtub creating a vortex, to the excitement of lightning and wishing I could blast electricity from my fingertips. I could even get swept away in the creativity of observing faces in power poles, cars and all sorts of interesting objects. Of course, it wasn’t all this fun. I had a strong dislike of sudden change, and experienced my fair share of hardships in school. I knew I was very different compared to my peers in school, and struggled to understand how to ‘fit in’, making me an easy target for school bullies.
Although I was aware of my differences, I couldn’t explain them in words until I drew a picture of my brain for my mother. I drew a series of television screens with signal antennas where all the screens were working except for one. The antenna on that screen was bent and the screen was not tuned. My mother assured me that ‘all we need to do is straighten the antenna’. Things became increasingly devastating after sadly losing my father at the young age of ten. Something that I struggled to accept but learnt to understand is that the real world, as beautiful and interesting it can be, can also be very cruel. Especially when the things you love most are taken away from you. Despite all the grief, things began to improve as I was placed in an exercise class to learn to move and co-ordinate my body and brain. The classes, alongside changes to my diet, saw school teachers noticing improvement in my overall ability in learning and behaviour within months. I felt things becoming easier overtime, and I experienced less of the confusion that I generally would.
Despite still having difficulties with fitting in, I was growing in self-confidence, standing up to bullies, and was able to more quickly observe, absorb and understand information. Some of the most valuable lessons I learnt in my life were from my experiences of pushing and shaping myself in the pursuit of individual growth and personal development. The benefits I received from challenging my mind and body as well as from a healthy and active lifestyle inspired me to create Time 2 Train, a movement program for people with Autism. My purpose involves creating a fun and revolutionary opportunity for participants to access and achieve success, whilst supporting their talents and valuable differences. I aim to assist participants towards understanding the ways of the world, while establishing a healthy invitation into theirs.
My life's dedication to the community through sport has been helped and driven by my mother who always reminded me, ‘I never saw you as my son with Aspergers who couldn’t do things, but rather as just another boy who could learn to do everything like the others, if not better’.