By Luke Kenton
These inspirational identical autistic twins have found solace in marathon running – allowing them to be defined by their abilities rather than their disability.
Though largely indistinguishable in their appearance, 28-year-old twins Alex and Jamie Schneider are anything but identical in their personalities.
According to mum, Robyn, 62, Alex does everything fast – he eats fast; gets dressed fast; and he moves fast – but his brother Jamie is far more measured and leisurely.
But in their respective differences, their binding of DNA guarantees some similarity – and the two brothers, from Great Neck, New York, share one very common passion: running.
Participating in a total of 600 races as a family, it’s an interest that Robyn has credited to allow the pair to express themselves in a way their non-verbal condition would never permit them.
She also insists running has provided the Alex and Jamie with the much needed anonymity to be judged on their abilities rather than their disability – and particularly serious runner, Alex, even managed a very impressive time of 2:50:05 at last year’s New York Marathon.
Acclaiming the sport to provide an escape from the challenges of their everyday family life, Robyn, author of the book “Silent Running: Our Family’s Journey to the Finish Line with Autism,” said: “Each and every time they cross the finish line, I’m bursting with emotion – the feeling never changes.
“Their level of functioning on a daily basis is very limited.
“If I don’t put food on the table, they won’t eat; they don’t know how to put on a jacket in cold weather; they cannot cross the street alone, or be left alone at any time – yet they’ve run hundreds of races and been fully embraced by the running community.
“When we go to races, we are known among the community, and our sons are respected and celebrated by them all.
“When our sons run, they’re just like any other runner: one foot on the start line, waiting for the gun to go off, and then just enjoying the ride alongside all their peers and fellow athletes.
“Running has been a true blessing to our family – it’s provided an escape in many ways.”
When Robyn Schneider, 62, prematurely gave birth to identical twins 28-years-ago, she admits early behavioral symptoms failed to ring alarm bells, as doctors advised her Alie and Jamie’s slow development was a result of their early arrival.
With a diagnosis of profound autism coming less than two years later, the stunned first-time mother waited for a “cure” to come along and eradicate their condition – only to finally accept that her family life as she knew it was about to change forever.
Confessing the challenge of raising two boys with a profound autism diagnosis to be incredibly hard on their family, Robyn – who had no previous experience of autism – pledged to ensure Alex and Jamie would lead the happiest lives possible.
Having attempted a number of different activities to stimulate the boys’ sensory needs – from gymnastics, to karate, to soccer and baseball – but there was only activity that enveloped their interest: running.
Taking the boys to their first running class back in 2015, they’ve run multiple times every single week since – but it wasn’t until a breast cancer diagnosis three years later that Robyn herself decided to run alongside them.
The Schneider family now have their sights set on the 2018 New York Marathon, on November 4.
Robyn said: “[Alex and Jamie] Being nonverbal and therefore unable to express needs, feeling and desires, on top of having a complex neurodevelopment disorder, has been incredibly hard on our family.
“We face challenges every day, from morning till night.
“My husband, Allan, and I work together to make their lives as complete as possible by structuring every aspect of our lives around their needs.
“When they ran for the first time, it was a thrill for us to see them so mesmerized and happy.
“It wasn’t until 2008, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, that I decided to run.
“I knew it would benefit me physically and emotionally, so I laced up my shoes during chemotherapy and haven’t stopped since.
“I run with Jamie and Allen in shorter races, while Alex flies ahead with his trainer.
“Both Alex and Jamie are more relaxed after running, it’s become a release of their energy and a sense of freedom from their autism.
“Jamie, Allen and I run about three times a week – Alex every day.
“Running has redefined who our sons are.
“While we are all in that nurturing environment, we are the happiest and most fulfilled we can be.
“We have endured tragedy in our family, but taking control of one’s destiny – in this case, the destiny of my sons – and having the power to change it or shape it, is what gave me strength.
“I hope my story will give others hope, strength and the energy needed to succeed.”