Autism and Box Scores

I did an interview with M. Kelter a month or two ago for the Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism website. M. asked me when I first realized that I was autistic and I mentioned to him that it was seeing myself reflected in one of my first students, Jason H. I wanted to go into this in a little more detail.

It was sort of a circuitous road that lead me to a job working as a support staff for the Oakland Unified School District adult transition program. I had been a rare book dealer just a few years before, but chance, or luck, or circumstance had brought me to the student cafeteria at the College of Alameda in my early forties and sitting at a table one morning with Jason H. Oakland Unified hired me because A.) I was breathing and B.) Because I had the college credit to qualify as a paraprofessional under No Child Left Behind Act. I seriously had no idea what I was doing. There was no formal [or informal] training for the job. I just showed up.

I mentioned in the interview with M. Kelter that I didn’t have a clear concept at the time of what Autism was beyond what I had seen in fear filled news stories of lost and silent children who were incapable of love and beyond hope. I sat silently with Jason for the first three weeks of our time together assuming that he was non-verbal. I would ask him questions and he would shake his head yes or no. This one morning we were sitting silently as usual, when a client from another program walked over and said, “Hi Jason! are you still reading the baseball scores to everyone?” Jason turned the client and said, “No. I don’t have a newspaper.” I excitedly asked Jason if he wanted to go get a newspaper and read me the baseball box scores. This became our ritual for the next few years [baseball and other sports].

There is more to this story than just Jason and I bonding. I knew instinctively why Jason needed to read the baseball box scores. It was a ritual for me as well and had been since I was 9 years old I first discovered box scores with their beautiful rows of numbers and symbols, so ordered and predictable, so comforting.  As a child in school, I would watch other boys and try to decode how they knew how to act and interact with one another. It was such a conundrum for me, because they clearly knew something that I did not. The boys all talked about cars and sports and I figured that I needed to find interest in those things as well. I came up with the idea of buying baseball cards.

At first glance the baseball cards were hardly more than pictures of men I mostly have never heard of, but the back of these cards had these amazing rows and columns of numbers which I became infatuated with instantly. The numbers spoke to me in ways beyond the simple understanding of player performance. They took on personal meaning and the statistics on the back of baseball cards, as wells as score sheets and baseball box scores soon became part of an internal lexicon for me. It is not a language I can really describe very well here, but they gave me a framework or a template to internally weigh and balance my experience [a way of knowing what is solid and what is not solid].

The beauty of box scores is that the structure never really changes. Each baseball season the daily box scores accumulate the totals which will eventually end up on the back of a baseball card. When those statistics balance in in certain ways, it is very satisfying. The box scores calm me.

Jason lit up over the idea of us getting a newspaper. We nipped over to a corner market, bought a paper and brought it back to the student cafeteria.  So here was Jason with his newspaper opened to the baseball box scores. I watched his eyes scanning the columns and rows while his index finger run up and down on the newsprint mimicking the movement of his eyes. Finally he started talking, almost screaming with excitement about the scores and I knew that I was like him. This ritual of ours was so specific and this was my epiphany, “Jason is like me. I wonder if I am autistic too?”

Jason H. scanning the baseball box scores.

Jason H. scanning the baseball box scores.

[Brent White is Autistic. He designs and directs adult programs for intellectually and developmentally disabled adults for the non-profit Ala Costa Centers in Berkeley, California].

One Response to Autism and Box Scores

  1. raspycricket says:

    Presuming competence – makes total sense as a concept, but so rarely put into practice. What kinds of relationships are we building with our clients without it?

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