JEREMY Samson, 30, 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. Today, I have 15 Asperger's children aged eight to 15 on my books, another 10 on a waiting list and I teach at four centres around Melbourne.
I also have three DVDs, so the kids can practise the movements at home. My 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, 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.