Barefoot and ASD By Trevize1138 Something I wrote up and posted to /r/aspergers Friday. Thought I'd share here, too: This is just a hypothesis I've been kicking around in my head lately. I've been using myself and my 9yo ASD daughter as examples and test cases. The connection between ASD and running occurred to me this spring watching my daughter during a fun run for school. She stepped a bit wrong, her shoe snagged on the rubber track a bit and it twisted her knee. It was a very minor sprain and she was fine a few hours later but it was a bit too familiar to my own childhood: always a bit clumsy. I've been running pretty much my whole life and had a love/hate relationship with it because I'd get injured all the time: twisted ankles, shin splints, pulled hamstrings, pulled calves, metatarsal extensor tendonitis ... I quit running for the first time after I graduated high school despite being a good CC and track runner because 2/3 of the time I was injured before the state meet. I raced mountain bikes for years until my daughter was born in '07 and I needed a way to stay in shape that didn't require so much of a time investment. I took up running again. This time around I wasn't getting injured 2-3 months after starting but 2-3 weeks. At 39 I was ready to give up running again out of frustration and decided to give the trendy idea of minimalist running a try. It sounded crazy to me that less shoe would help. “I need all that support because I get injured,” was my thought at first. I started realizing that if shoes were supposed to prevent injury they weren’t doing a very good job of it. The only way for me to know if minimalist shoes would help was to give them a try. It’s been a bit of a long road but I’m happy to report that I’ve been running a lot more and injury free for the last 5 years. I won’t go through all the details about that journey but seeing my daughter twist her knee on the track wearing shoes with blocky foam padding on the bottom triggered something I hadn’t even thought about. Running was responsible for many of my injuries including always twisting my ankles easily. I just had weak ankles. I twisted them not just running but doing a host of other things. I twisted my ankle once taking a short step backward wearing boots. I twisted my ankle pushing too hard on the pedals of my bike. I twisted my ankle running in place on a level floor. In these last 5 years I’ve not twisted my ankle once. Obviously, not using supportive shoes encouraged ankle development but I got thinking about some other factors. When I’ve got a big block of foam under my feet I’m literally on unstable ground all the time. If I step just wrong on that block I can easily reach a point-of-no-return where it acts as a fulcrum on which my body weight pushes past, my foot twists under me and crack. Take away that padded, foam fulcrum and my feet are now on stable ground. Even when I step on a rock or other obstacle that tries to twist my ankle I’m able to stop it before going too far. On top of that I know exactly how far my feet are from the ground or obstacles because there’s no longer some no-man’s-land of padding to account for. It’s similar to the difference riding a mountain bike through narrow trees with bar ends vs no bar ends. I used to hit trees on occasion riding trails like that when I had bar ends. Now I ride without them (they were totally 90s anyway) and haven’t hit a tree since. In fact, if I really know the trail I find the outside of my hand gently brushing the bark sometimes as I round a turn. Your brain is smart about where your body is in space but not where some technological appendage is. This is true for neurotypical people as well and the problem can be compounded if you’re on the spectrum. I got my daughter a pair of 6mm-thick sandals this summer and she loves them. I’m going to get her some shoes for the school year with the same foot bed: no “arch support” or foam, just a thin strip of tread between her foot and the ground. I’m hopeful that’ll help her feel more stable and confident. Shoes like that have certainly worked for me. For all that minimalist shoes have done for me and my daughter you might wonder: “why barefoot”? When I started going completely unshod that last summer and people asked me that I had no good answer other than “I guess because I can.” This year I challenged myself to run my first marathon on a rough trail in the North Dakota Badlands barefoot. That meant I had to make sure I was able to run unshod on any surface: dirt, pavement or even gravel. The marathon was two weeks ago. Horribly hot weather. I dropped after 18 miles and 5 ½ hours. In addition to heat exhaustion my feet hurt because the trail was even rougher than I expected and I just wasn’t quite ready for it. But despite that performance I have finally found a good answer for “why barefoot?” I run barefoot because I’m too clumsy to be a good runner in shoes. How does that work? Being on the spectrum my mind-body connection is a bit weird to begin with. Thick, padded shoes only complicate that connection. On top of that I have good, old-fashioned ASD over-thinking and I remember studying the variable softness in the heel of my old Asics, noticing they suggested landing heel-first on the outside of the foot then helping the foot roll flat. That’s the design of the shoe so obviously that’s how I should have run. That meant over-striding which I believe is at the root of so many running injuries. Even minimalist shoes provided a bit too much of a disconnect between my feet and the ground. I had been running better, to be sure, than when I had padded shoes but barefoot has made me a better runner now at 44 than I've ever been. Some people said it was dumb for me to try my first marathon barefoot. I know that I wouldn't have even considered trying that marathon had it not been for barefoot. Running barefoot taught me good running form better than any coach. If I’m landing too hard I know right away. I’m encouraged or even forced into safe, light, easy form because it hurts to do it any other way. And talk about sensory integration! If you really want to feel your mind and body connected to the world around you nothing’s better than barefoot. Put on shoes with thick padding and I’m even more disconnected with the physical spaces around me than I already am thanks to ASD. With all my other activities I’ve seen neurotypical people catch on much quicker. I need to ride a mountain bike trail many times over the course of an entire season before really doing the obstacles. Neurotypical friends of mine confidently jump off of obstacles on the first try. Same thing with running: if you’re more coordinated you can learn better form no matter the footwear. That’s not me, so I kick off the shoes whenever I can.