This blog was written by Kaitlin Bounds, a runner who is on the autism spectrum. After excelling in track during high school, Bounds received an athletic scholarship and ran throughout college. This post is part of our Ties That Bind blog series that highlights the shared experiences that people in our autism community have had. Have a story you want to share? Email us your blog submission at AutismSpeaksBlog@gmail.com!
When I was four years old and first diagnosed with autism, the doctors told my parents that by the time I was eighteen years old they could place me in an institution or a half way house for mentally handicapped adults. Needless to say my parents were horrified, and sought out other doctors who could assist me in living a life outside the confines of an institution. This was in 1995, when the internet was young and the diagnosis of autism did not have any outlook of hope. My parents worked tirelessly to research any doctor, treatment, therapy, or any option that might help to improve my issues.
There were times in school when I didn’t want my feet to touch water or another student got in my face and I had a meltdown, but I had great teachers who helped me along the way and over the years I learned to adjust to life in the real world. It was difficult because loud noises, textures, and trying to live life outside a regular set schedule upset me on a daily basis. Those were hard days for me and my family. It is those times that you really know who your true friends are, the ones who can accept you as you are and help you get past your issues without judgment. Sometimes it is a lonely road for everyone involved, but with the support of my family, friends, and teachers I got through the struggles life dealt me on a daily basis.
My mom believes that everyone was put on the earth for a purpose in life; we just have to reach out and find out hidden potential to realize where we belong. I was born 5 weeks premature and my lungs did not inflate, causing me to have ECMO surgery (heart lung bypass) at one day old. The doctor’s were not sure about my chances of living, but I did. As a result my right carotid artery is severed and I have less blood flow than most people. When a PE Coach suggested to my parents that I should consider taking up cross country running, my parents thought he was out of his mind. How could a child with no right carotid artery run, let alone race in a big crowd of runners throughout the race with the issues of autism? We decided to give it a try because we had tried everything else and my parents refused to give up on anything that might make a difference in my life. At fourteen I ran my first track meet and ran a 7:00 mile. A terrible time, but I managed to finish 8th and get a ribbon and a point for my team that day. Everyone was so proud of me that day that I continued to pursue running.
I found something in running that I had been looking for, freedom! When I run I feel free and no one can take that away from me. When I am running I am just Kaitlin, not the girl with autism, not the girl who is different, I am just a runner, and I am happy! My life continues to be filled with daily challenges, but I have found a sense of purpose. I received an athletic scholarship to run in college, I got a bachelor’s degree in history, and I am still running. Now I am 23 years old and have started being invited to run half marathons because my times are fast enough to qualify me for the elite status at many of the races.
For 2015 I set a goal for myself to run 3 half marathons within a six week period. I did not set out to do this but for one reason or another I needed to run those three races. I ended up winning the Little Rock Half Marathon in AR., the Hogeye Half Marathon in Fayetteville, AR., and the Russvegas Half Marathon in my hometown of Russellville, AR. It was a difficult, but a rewarding experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything! The highlight of the races was running Russvegas in my hometown and having so many people cheer for me.
The race benefited Arkansas Children’s Hospital and there were children who were patients of the hospital who handed out the finisher medals at the end of the race. It brought tears to my eyes that these children with their own issues were excited to meet me. That was a special day and because the race gave out prize money, I donated my winnings back to the Hospital in the hope that another child might realize a dream of their own. We never know where our lives may lead us, but we must never give up hope, because there is a place for all of us on this earth if we just look outside our own limits.