The first time Dayton Edwards jumped into a swimming pool was five years ago.
He refused to put his face underwater, but a desire to "fit in" drove Dayton beneath the water's surface where he discovered another realm - a silence that changed his life.
Dayton, 16, was diagnosed with high functioning autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiance disorder when he was in the third grade. For years he attended special education classes and was labeled a "bad kid" because of his behavior.
His only friend was Midnight, his cat.
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"He got kicked out of three schools," said Terri Edwards. "He got kicked out of soccer, he got kicked out of Boy Scouts and he got kicked out of karate for behavior issues.
"We finally got him in public school — because, you know, they don't leave any child behind."
Edwards is Dayton's maternal grandmother. In 2015 she and her former husband Dan Edwards adopted Dayton, who has lived with them since he was an infant.
"I got him when he was 3 months old," said Edwards. "His dad died of an overdose when he was 5."
Edwards said she knew Dayton had autism, but he lacked some of the more common signs of the condition such as avoiding eye contact. Testing revealed Edwards' suspicions were correct.
"Everyone is learning and Dayton is piling books up and building a castle to encase himself because the stimulus was too much," Edwards said. "They are just thinking he is a bad child because he won't do anything like everyone else."
Dayton was placed in special education where he met Kelly McGinnis.
"Mrs. McGinnis was his special education teacher," said Edwards. "She changed his life."
McGinnis said she knew Edwards when Dayton was little, but the two became closer when she had Dayton in class.
"I actually gave her all my baby clothes," she said with a laugh.
McGinnis said she did not realize Dayton was her son until his first parent-teacher conference.
"She brought all the teachers chocolate," McGinnis said. "She said she never had a good one and thought the chocolate would help to smooth things over. She bawled the whole time."
Not long after that, McGinnis said she was reading an article about autism and swimming and suggested it to Edwards.
"The article talked about swimming blocking out the extra stimuli and I thought it would be good for him," she said.
Edwards wasn't convinced until Dayton said he didn't want to do it.
"If he didn't want to do something, I made him do it," Edwards said. "That's just the way I raised him."
Dayton, 11, started in a guppy class with 5- and 6-year-olds and soon pestered Edwards about swimming with "the bigger kids."
"I told him when you put your face in the water, you can swim with the bigger kids and the next day, boom, he put his face in the water," she said.
Within two weeks he was swimming with children his own age, Edwards said.
Edwards said that is when she and Dayton's grandfather realized something was different. Dayton stopped obsessing over things, his grades got better and he wasn't fighting against them any longer. He also "worked" himself out of special education classes.
But Dayton wanted to stop swimming.
"Swim meets are loud," Edwards said. "There are a lot of people. It was awful. He would sit under a towel and rock. The coach would pat him on the head, he would get up on the block, come back under his towel and rock again. It was like that for a whole year. Then one day I look down and Dayton is talking to a kid behind him.
"He had no friends. None. He had a cat, that was his friend. That was his only friend."
A year later, Dayton had several friends and was starting to excel at swimming.
"The kids on the swim team were wonderful," Edwards said. "If he was under the towel, they didn't bother him. If he came out of the towel they would talk to him, but he didn't talk back. They accepted him for who he was, no matter what it was."
Jeff Eddy, a swim coach at Anderson High School, said Dayton is one of several young swimmers competing this year who show great potential.
"Anderson High School has a top 20 all-time list and Dayton has reached the top 20 all-time list in three events," Eddy said. "Three individual events and one relay. That's a great achievement to do that."
On average, Dayton says he spends about four or five hours a day practicing. His time is 22.09 in the 50 freestyle and 48.43 in the 100.
One day he wants to be in the Olympics.
Dayton doesn't like to talk about everything he has done right in swimming. He tends to point out all of his faults, but he said swimming allows him to make his parents and girlfriend proud.
"Don't judge a book by its cover," he said talking about his loneliness and struggles before he started swimming. "You don't know all the struggles someone is having."
He also encourages others to try something new.
"Give something an opportunity instead of saying it's stupid," he said. "You have to try it first."
Edwards said her prayers have been answered since Dayton began swimming.
"Swimming completely changed his life," she said looking at Dayton as she brushed tears from her eyes. "This is a totally different child right here."
Source: The Herald Bulletin
Information from: The Herald Bulletin, http://www.theheraldbulletin.com
This is an Indiana Exchange story shared by The Herald Bulletin