Teenager Tim overcomes multiple difficulties to find a life beneath the waves

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When Angela Clarke’s son Tim told her it hurt to swim, her heart sank.

The teenager from Aberdare loved swimming and the water helped ease the pain of his scoliosis – a curvature of the spine.

Tim, 17, who also has autism and dyslexia, has worn a back brace all day from the age of 12 to ease his scoliosis.

Being in the pool offered a brief respite from his condition and Tim had loved it since learning to swim aged nine, Angela said.

“Swimming is good exercise but his back curved and a few years ago he had to give up,” she recalled.

“He’s growing unevenly and as it’s growing his spine is curving.

“It causes him awful pain.”

Just as they were giving up hope of him ever swimming again, Tim discovered his back didn’t ache when he swam underwater – so Angela set about finding him a diving course.

“He realised he was able to move underwater, although not on top,” she explained.

“So I contacted Cardiff Scuba Club, but was worried that all his health problems would make it difficult.”

Diagnosed with autism at the age of 10, Tim is around five on a scale of one to 10 on the autistic spectrum.

He finds it hard to communicate, doesn’t always recognise facial expressions or sarcasm and can find the pace of the world baffling.

When Angela contacted Cardiff Scuba Club to see if Tim could join, she feared they’d turn him down – but far from it.

“When I listed all his health problems, the instructor at Cardiff Scuba Club, Rob Sutherland, just looked at me and said: ‘Yes. And your problem is?’” she explained.

“It’s through their encouragement he’s done so well.”

Since joining the club four years ago, Tim has become a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) qualified diver and travelled to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh with the club.

“Because of the weight of the tanks on his back we have to be careful putting his kit on, but his colleagues in the club help,” said Angela.

“He still has mobility problems but the club has adapted things to help him do it.”

Although she’d never dived before, she joined Tim on the trip last year, determined to discover for herself what it was her son liked so much about the underwater world.

“I thought if he could do it, I could too,” she laughed.

“We saw lots of colourful fish and a wreck. The colours and movement underwater was amazing.”

Tim at home in Aberdare with dad Andrew and mum Angela Tim at home in Aberdare with dad Andrew and mum Angela

Tim finds life beneath the waves less of a challenge than the hectic pace on land, she says.

“People with autism have a problem with the world and interaction, but Tim says he feels content underwater.

“He says the noise of the outside world isn’t there.

“As a youngster, he always had an affinity to water and we encouraged him to go to the beach, although he didn’t learn to swim until the relatively old age of nine.”

Tim’s older brother Josh, 22, is a keen surfer so the family went on holidays to Australia and America, where both boys swam and Tim’s love of water grew.

Civil servant Angela and husband Andrew, 51, who owns CSM Pressings in Aberdare, always fostered his love of water and regularly took him to Tenby and Llangennith beaches at weekends.

“We always encouraged him to go to the beach and he soaked it all up like a sponge,” said Angela.

And it’s paid off. Tim loves his weekly training sessions with the club at Fitzalan High School’s swimming pool, despite the long journey from his home in the Valleys.

Back on dry land he is also making good progress at school. Although Tim’s problems with writing mean he has to take all exams verbally, the teenager notched up 13 GCSEs at St John’s High School in Aberdare – getting four A, three B and six C grades.

He’s taking A-level chemistry, biology and physics this summer and hopes to read marine biology at Swansea University, determined to make a career from his love of water.

“Tim applied to Cardiff and Swansea universities and both offered him a place,” said Angela.

“We were open and honest and said he had to do things differently.

“Obviously he’ll need a lot of support. Although he has a high IQ, he finds reading and writing hard.”

Writing about why he likes scuba diving so much, Tim explained: “I like this underwater kingdom as there’s no gravity, no loud noises and I can just be myself.”

His achievements in the face of so much adversity have seen him shortlisted for a new award, the Autism Hero Award.

The awards ceremony, being held in Cardiff on June 15, will honour three winners for their work in both overcoming adversity with autism and working with autism.

The awards were launched by Caerphilly mum Jo Salmon, whose daughter Holly, 14, has autism. Jo also organises the Holly’s Ball event to celebrate autism, which has run for a number of years.

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/

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