For Logan Hulett, autism speaks volumes through the means of a swimming pool.
While swimming has greatly changed the livelihood of this special needs individual, this outlet also brings immeasurable joy for the Moberly 22-year old and his family.
In addition, swimming also has awarded this sandy blond-haired lean athlete who often greets others with an illuminating smile a spot on Team Missouri’s swimming squad.
In doing so, Logan will compete in the 2014 National Special Olympic Games to be held next June in New Jersey.
“Swimming is probably the best thing that ever happened to him. It’s done wonders for him in so many ways especially socially, and it has given him confidence and a purpose,” said his mother Doreen.
When Logan was about 18-months old, his parents Stanley and Doreen took notice of their son’s eyes would often twitch and have a glazed-look about them. He began to pass-out and seizures developed. After consulting with a family physician, Logan was then taken to specialists at St. Louis Children’s Hospital for further examination.
The Hulett’s learned Logan had a brain tumor that was benign, and surgery took away a portion of his brain. The seizures disappeared immediately and never returned, but Logan was diagnosed having Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
“It changed our lives,” said Doreen. “We were told that this would affect his social development as he grows and learns. We went through several specialists - occupational therapists and physical therapists - to help him learn, and also to help Stan and I as we raise him at home. Things were pretty tough in the early years.”
ASD and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development that typically is diagnosed to emerge in 2-to-3-year old children. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.
According to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, 1 out of every 88 children in the United States is born with some form of autism. Studies also show that autism is four to five times more common among boys than girls. An estimated 1 out of 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States reported the CDC in Atlanta.
Studies also have shown that each individual with autism is unique. Many of those on the autism spectrum have exceptional abilities in visual skills, music and academic skills. About 40 percent have average to above average intellectual abilities.
The Hulett family lived in Moberly until 2000 when a job change for Doreen took the family to Tampa, Fla. for nearly a decade, and it was another job opportunity with GE Capital that brought them back here in 2010.
While in Tampa, the Huletts searched for activities that would catch the attention of their son and help develop Logan’s social skills.
Stan said taking his son into common, everyday public venues troubled Logan and made him very uncomfortable.
As challenging as it was, Stan remained steadfast in taking Logan with him to public places for him to witness and interact with others.
Trips to the grocery store seemed to open a gate of confidence for Logan when Stanley offered rewards if his son would accompany him to go shopping. Here, Logan learned about making choices when purchasing food or other items, the value of money and how to interact with other people.
At around the age of 12, the search of finding an activity that spurred Logan’s social life ended when they found swimming was the answer. There was a YMCA in Tampa that offered swimming activities for persons with physical or mental disabilities. Water and swimming peaked Logan’s interests, and he quickly picked up on learning to swim butterfly and crawl stroke.
Logan worked out at the YMCA two hours per day, six days per week. This led to him participating in swim meets and he was actively involved in Special Olympics. It didn’t take long for Logan to be a common figure of having a medal placed around his neck.
“When I swim, it makes me happy,” said Logan. “Sometimes the water is too cold. I don’t like cold. I like to swim fast and get medals. When I get a medal, I tell them my name is Logan Hulett, I shake their hand and say thank you.”
The process of maintaining an attention span long enough to know how to use different parts of his body to stay afloat and swim was slow in the beginning. But his parents said one day Logan suddenly caught great interest, listened to instructions intently and he quickly learned to coordinate motor skills properly to swim the formal strokes.
It did not take long for Logan to strengthen his stamina in the water, allowing him to swim several laps.
Goals were set for Logan to keep his focus on achieving, and when the doors of participating in Special Olympic swimming events opened up, Logan dived for every opportunity that presented itself. He even made his Tampa high school swimming team and Logan swam against non-disabled student athletes said his father Stan.
In the first few Special Olympics swimming meets, Logan was excited to learn that he was given a ribbon for completing the event no matter his finish.
However, he was quick to take notice that if he were to finish in the top three, a medal would be received and draped around his neck. This greatly motivated him to practice more in the swimming pool and it led to Logan becoming more of an accomplished swimmer and win many swimming medals.
“Besides having the opportunity to win a medal, swimming has opened doors for Logan to talk to other people and accept them. It has given him confidence to go out with others, make friends and have a good time,” added Doreen. “Logan can keep his focus and attention on his main goal, and that is to swim as hard and as fast as he can. He has a strong desire to be one of the top finishers in every race because he gets so excited knowing that he will be rewarded with a medal.”
Since returning to Moberly, Logan's swimming workouts differs greatly than what he was accostomed to do year round while living in Tampa due to a lack of aquatic resourses for special needs persons. He is involved with SOMO chapter in Columbia that meets once a week at the University of Missouri's indoor Mizzou's Aquatic Center, and occasionally he will swim here at the Randolph Area YMCA indoor pool.
Swimming has an advantage over team sports for autistic children because the focus is on the individual.
For example, in both basketball and baseball, an athlete does not have to anticipate when someone is going to pass the ball to him. Socially, therefore, Logan would not need that piece of knowledge to be at the forefront of his mind as he participates in a sport.
“I think the feel of the water and quiet time in the water can be therapeutic to people with autism. When you are swimming there aren’t many distractions or noise,” said Amy Wurst of Kansas City.
Wurst has been a volunteer with the Missouri Special Olympics for 30 years. She was Logan’s swim instructor and evaluated him during a recent weeklong Special Olympics National Games selection camp that was held at Missouri Military Academy in Mexico.
As a result, Hulett became one of seven athletes selected to Team Missouri on its aquatics squad and compete in the 2014 National Special Olympic Games to be held at Princeton University on June 14-21.
“Some of the main challenges I have while working with autistic persons is making my instructions clear on what I want the athlete to do such as length of swim, stroke, etc. Logan is always eager to please and checks in often to make sure he is doing the right thing,” said Wurst. “Logan is a very good swimmer and he works hard in practice. He fits in well with the rest of the team. He is polite and quick to help out when needed. Logan is always in a good mood and he makes every one around him in a good mood too! He has the best smile and his genuine happiness is infectious.”
Logan will represent Team Missouri competing in either the 200m or 400m butterfly, and the 800m freestyle swim competitions. He also might serve as a leg in the 4x50m relay.
What was his parents’ reaction upon learning Logan was selected to swim with Team Missouri?
“We got pretty teary-eyed learning he was invited to compete in the National Special Olympics. We’re pretty proud of him,” said his mother Doreen.
Soon, Logan will be selling mums as part of his goal to raise $1,500 to help pay for expenses incurred as he travels and spends more than a week participating in the National Special Olympics.
“Having a special needs child, you can never discount or think that the child cannot do something or that they simply do not know what they are doing because they can and they do. Logan is proof of that,” said Doreen. “It might take them a little more time than other children, but they will adapt and learn and do it. Every day Logan will surprise us with something that he does. There are many times we are just so amazed in him. Logan was treated and respected by every one here at Moberly High School leading up to him graduating in May, even the students who were not in his special needs classroom. People from school and friends come up to us and tell us things they saw Logan do and that makes us pretty proud.”
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NOTE: Every four years, Special Olympics conducts a National Summer Games in the United States that will showcase athletes competing in 14 official and 3 demonstration sports. For the first time next year, competitions will be offered in both traditional and Unified play, bringing together the community to support and play side-by-side with our athletes, in what expects to be the most inclusive Games in Special Olympics History.