Autism diagnosis inspired Rugby family to keep on running - The Rugby Observer

Autism diagnosis inspired Rugby family to keep on running

Andy Morris 13th Oct, 2022   0

A CLOSE-knit family has been clocking up the miles to raise money for the Rugby charity which has been supporting them since their five-year-old son was diagnosed with autism.

Mum Sam, dad Glyn and their son Jasper Spence ran over 40 miles between them this autumn after they decided they wanted to thank Rugby Autism Network (RAN) by completing a challenge as a family.

Sam ran 13.1 miles in the Great North Run Half Marathon in September, and Glyn clocked up the same distance at the Royal Parks Half Marathon last weekend.

A proud Jasper with his Pirate Gold Challenge medal.

But young Jasper outdid them both by running or walking 14 miles over August, September and October to complete his Pirate Gold 14 Mile Virtual Challenge – often while dressed as a pirate!

Sam told the Observer it was ‘no small feat’ for a five-year-old on the autistic spectrum with joint hypermobility.

She said: “We are so incredibly proud that he has embraced this challenge ‘to help others who also struggle’.

“Jasper did amazingly with his challenge. It’s no easy task when his autistic logical brain struggles with running laps of a field to end in the same place he started, and his joint hypermobility means it takes him more effort to move than his peers.”

Jasper was diagnosed in May, 18 months after he was referred to the Warwickshire Preschool Autism Team by his pre-school, St Matthews Bloxam.

And even though the diagnosis wasn’t a surprise, Sam says the family nevertheless experienced a ‘mix of emotions’.

“Having formal confirmation that Autistic Spectrum Disorder is part of what helps make our little boy who he is, took a while to sink in,” she said.

“It was nice to know that we weren’t making it all up, seeing behaviours that others weren’t, or that it wasn’t all in our head. However we were also worried about what this might mean going forwards; how would he – and us – be judged, what support would he need, what would his future hold, and sadness for how life would be different from what we had planned and expected.”

She says the support from RAN has been ‘invaluable’.

“When you are given the diagnosis it can be a very scary and lonely time,” she said. “RAN has helped us with information, support, understanding and community, from others that ‘get it’. The community are non-judgemental, informative and ‘live it’, so are able to give lots of helpful suggestions and advice.

“So we wanted to give something back to a charity that has helped us so much already and continues to be a real lifeline to us and so many other families.”

They decided to complete a challenge together as a family.

“It has enabled us to have positive conversation with Jasper about his autism diagnosis and the starts of him gaining a greater understanding himself and how he sees the world,” said Sam.

“We found a virtual challenge that Jasper could do alongside our races. He loves Pirates, so the 14 Mile Pirate Gold Challenge seemed perfectly fitting and meant that we were all doing a similar distance to each other – in fact Jasper was doing slightly more!”

Sam crosses the finish line at the Great North Run Half Marathon.

Describing her family as as ‘not natural runners’, Sam said it had taken a lot of dedication, motivation and perseverance to train for the runs.

“It was tough training over the hot summer,” she said. “I needed to get up really early before it got too hot, and fit the runs around working full time in the NHS, being a mum and wife, and having a child with additional needs.

“Despite this, everyone’s generosity, support and encouragement have made all the hard work and effort over the last few months all worthwhile.

“The Great North Run was amazing – I felt very privileged to be running for RAN at the biggest half marathon in the world.

“It felt like a fitting tribute to the Queen, to honour her life and service, while also celebrating people raising funds for worthy causes. I completed it in 2:34:46 and was really pleased with my time.”

Glyn completed the Royal Parks Half Marathon despite the fact he was still recovering from Covid.

Glyn clocked up a similar time – 2:34:04 – at the Royal Parks Half Marathon, describing it as a ‘very enjoyable run’ – despite the fact he was still recovering from Covid when he took on the challenge.

“Fundraising for RAN has been a major mood-booster,” says Sam. “The knowledge that you’re helping others is hugely empowering and, in turn, makes you feel happier and more fulfilled.

“It’s been great to share the experience with Jasper, to show him that from a young age he can make positive changes – and his autism doesn’t have to limit him and can be a real superpower.”

Rugby Autism Network supports around 250 individuals and families of those on the autism spectrum. It organises events for parents and carers to get to know each other, support meetings with guest speakers, and autism-friendly activities. It also provides equipment for hire, and subsidises courses to encourage the building of autism knowledge in the community.

Visit or email [email protected] for more information.

Visit to donate to Sam, Glyn and Jasper’s fund-raising campaign.

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