Manon and the seven finalists swim laps in the 50-metre outdoor swimming pool in Vichy (Allier), under a radiant sun. Rhythmic applause, songs (including the inevitable "We will rock you" by Queen), forest of flags ...: the spectators, grouped by nationality, encourage the swimmers at the top of their lungs, assisted by pop music coming out of loudspeakers pushed to the limit.

The 15-year-old from Reims finished second in the 1,500-metre race in the category reserved for autistic people for the first time at the Global Games.

This international competition, which is held every four years, was previously reserved for athletes with intellectual disabilities, "which is not the case for all autistic people", who suddenly did not participate until the 2023 edition, explains Marc Truffaut, president of the International Federation of Adapted Sport, Virtus.

These athletes are affected, in practice in "normal" clubs, by communication difficulties and behavioral disorders. Many of them are able to integrate better into the world of adapted sport.

"Here, we all understand each other, we do not criticize each other," says AFP Manon, the young swimmer, tired of the "reflections" of some swimmers in "ordinary" clubs.

The new category also "fits completely" with 22-year-old swimmer Axel Parisot: "I compete with people like me". "It allows us to send the message that we can succeed in life, even if we are a carrier of autism," adds the Poitevin sportsman, to whom swimming has taught him to better manage his emotions. He won several gold medals at these Global Games.


To compete in this category reserved for autistic athletes, athletes must have been diagnosed by an autism expert center or a multidisciplinary team, which performs evaluation tests on the faculties of communication, interaction etc. Studies estimate that nearly one in a hundred children is born with autism spectrum disorder.

For example, autistic people "need more explanations about the instructions," says Catherine Fayollet, psychiatrist and head of eligibility at the French Federation of Adapted Sport.

The specialized sports educators "explain better and give us more advice," says Lucas, a 21-year-old autistic runner met in the gymnasium set up for the warm-up of athletes.

Loïc Brunet, national middle-distance coach at the French Federation of Adapted Sport, stresses that these athletes "stress more easily, they must be reassured". He tries to "adopt a monotonous tone so as not to rush them".

This year, the first edition for this category, only a few dozen autistic athletes competed (the French delegation had 160 athletes for these Global Games, including 17 for the category dedicated to autistic athletes).

In swimming, "the level is starting to become interesting and will progress," according to Bertrand Sebire, national coach of para adapted swimming. "It was a highly anticipated category, the people concerned come to us."

For the race, Lucas will face only three runners from other countries for the 400 meters. "It takes many pioneers to open your voice," said coach Loïc Brunet.

© 2023 AFP