Just before the Reynoldsburg High School boys and girls swimming and diving teams began warming up for practice Jan. 17 at the Eldon Ward YMCA, coach Stephanie Kiss reminded sophomore Hayden Stratman about her plan to help him improve his stroke in the water.
"We're going to be videotaping you today," Kiss said. "You started to get it in our last meet."
Stratman, who joined the program as a freshman after having Kiss as a teacher in eighth-grade science, dropped eight seconds off his previous season-best time in the 500-yard freestyle Jan. 14 in a meet against Lancaster.
He also dropped six seconds off his previous best in the 200 free against Lancaster and has competed on the team's 400 free relay as well.
Having Stratman watch video of himself has been among the methods Kiss believes has been an effective form of communication considering his learning comprehension abilities.
Stratman has Asperger's syndrome, which according to autismspeaks.org is considered on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum.
People with Asperger's often have challenges with nonverbal communication coupled with average- to above-average verbal skills, trouble relating socially and an inability to understand non-literal phrases.
"I like being on the swim team," Stratman said. "I didn't know how to do some of the strokes when I first (joined the team). They've given me a lot of tips. I've practiced and watched video.
"One of the things I enjoy about swim meets is being able to see myself drop time."
The Raiders are preparing to compete in the OCC-Ohio Division swimming meet Saturday, Jan. 26, at New Albany.
The boys team has been led all season by senior Josh Dorsett, who competes in the 50 free, 100 free, 100 butterfly and in the 200 medley relay.
The only other competitors on the boys team are senior Connor Svoboda, junior D.J. Jenkins, sophomore Devin Wooddell and freshman Christian Morgan.
With a small boys team and with 10 girls in the program, the Raiders recently had a team dinner at the house of one of the girls competitors.
Those types of interactions are what Stratman was looking for when he joined the program.
"(Being on the team) has helped me to be able to make some friends," he said.
"We have a very small boys team, and they've all been really friendly with him," said Stacy Stratman, who is Hayden's mother.
According to autismspeaks.org, some form of autism affects one in 88 children and one in 54 boys. It is the considered the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.
Hayden was diagnosed with Asperger's when he was about 3 years old. When he was about 18 months old, Stacy said her son began reading from Newsweek magazine.
"I thought he was a child prodigy," she said. "He has super-high reading skills. I think it used to be one in every 400 and then it was one in every 150 that were diagnosed. Now it's less than that because they've been more progressive. I still think there's a long way to go (regarding the diagnosis of autism).
"I always make sure his teacher understands him and knows where he is coming from. Years ago Hayden didn't really understand the diagnosis, but he got a good understanding a few years ago. Asperger's is a higher level of autism where they have social awareness. They just don't always make social connections. He really wants to have friends and is socially aware."
The Stratmans have lived in Reynoldsburg for 13 years. Stacy believes that having Kiss as a teacher helped Hayden understand more quickly the skills necessary to be a part of the swimming program.
"He can follow instructions, but for him, it's all about repetition," Stacy said. "He's a very visual learner. Their coach gets in the water a lot with the kids and that kind of helps to break it down into steps. It's an individual sport, but it's also a team sport. Those kids are so great."
In addition to Hayden often making team members laugh, he has been an asset with his skills in the water, Wooddell said.
"Without him, we wouldn't have our 400 free relay, so we wouldn't be getting those points," Wooddell said. "(Being on the team) has helped him to get to know people, and we're all respectful of him. He is also a really good swimmer. I think he actually impresses people."
"There are so many facets with (Asperger's)," Kiss said. "He's taken on distance swimming this year. We're going to start pacing for (the league meet). If you tell him to go 1,000 yards, he'd literally go 1,000. He'll just keep going if you don't stop him. It's the opposite of what most kids want to do. He's a good kid."