In a televised interview with Swedish news outlet TV4, Islanders goalie prospect Linus Söderström spoke about having Asperger Syndrome and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, and how the afflictions have helped shaped his life and hockey career.
"I have had it my whole life - my Asperger's and ADHD. I am who I am because of it. I would not have been the person nor ice hockey player that I am if I didn't have this," Söderström said in the longer version of the taped interview, which was posted on YouTube by TV4 and graciously translated by Zeb.
Diagnosed with both disorders at seven, Söderström found an oasis in hockey and in support from teachers at a specialized school he began attending at 10.
"Ice hockey has always been there, whenever I have had problems with friends, family, school - I have been able to rely on ice hockey," he said. "It has meant all to me, hockey is my life.
"The help I got from the teachers at the specialist school is something I could never say thank you for enough. They shaped me to a better person, and helped me focus my drive for school and ice hockey."
The video was also written about in Swedish newspaper Expressen.
Taken in the fourth round (95th overall) by the Islanders in the 2014 draft, the 6'-5" Söderström plays for Vita Hästen in Allsvenskan, the second highest professional league in Sweden, and has a 4-8-2 record with a .927 save percentage this season. He's currently at Sweden's World Junior Camp looking for a spot on this year's roster. He went 5-2-0 in last season's tournament.
Asperger Syndrome is a disorder on the autism spectrum that can cause difficulty in social interactions, speech or motor movements. Asperger's patients can have trouble in conversation or in reading non-verbal communications the rest of us take for granted. It can often be confused with ADHD, but the latter is categorized by an inability to focus, while the former is a social affliction.
"I am more respectful and understanding to my friends and colleagues, something I wasn't before. But now I understand things better," Söderström says.
Having Asperger's and being around sports wasn't always easy for Söderström, who often heard taunts and insults due to his behavior. But with time, education and a positive outlook, he's been able to grow past that.
"My parents informed the coaches, that then informed my teammates. This was when I was young and couldn't control things. Today things are different. But this is a natural development so I don't see it as special.
"Every year that passes, I care less about the insults that people might throw my way. I still see it as a strength."
Recent research estimates that one in 500 people could have some form of Asperger's, which ranges widely in severity among patients. Although the condition can lead to difficulties communicating with others, Söderström wants to be seen as someone who didn't let the problem stop him from pursuing his goals, and talks about the affliction as having a constructive affect on his hockey career.
"One day I want to play in NHL that's every player's dream. Every day brings me closer. I'm getting close to the ultimate goal. Never stop dreaming and never lose the hope you have of reaching it.
"[Asperger's] helped me focus on the ice so I could be the one I wanted. To others with the same [handicap], I would tell them to do something they love. You have to be positive to help yourself. Don't shy away from this. Its a strength. Just have fun and that has helped me in regards to ice hockey."