By Simon Huebner and Richard Kaplan Med.Sp.ed
No kid is born anxious or shutting themselves off from family, friends, and society at large. It happens when simple events get compounded over a time period. Any individual can make up their mind, and end up determining a boundary that they absolutely, positively, will abide to, no matter the consequences. When most of the outside world sees a socialization problem, that individual will never abandon their principle. Their instinct for self-preservation will take precedence over every other concern. This is called absolutism. Asperger’s and absolutism are completely intertwined. The personal story below occurred when I was only 7 years old.
I’m sitting in Sunday school, which was a less confined space as I was in Monday through Friday during the day. In any event, on the first day of school, my teacher said, “If we get everything done, we’re going to talk about the Braves.”
Asperger’s meant I wanted to know about baseball. I knew nothing about the sport. Absolutism meant I must be prepared if it comes up again. Asperger’s and absolutism ensured that baseball held my undivided attention for many years. I just wanted to be prepared if and when it came up in conversation.
The year was 1993. I soon learned that my hometown Atlanta Braves were in the middle of an epic pennant race against the San Francisco Giants. I soon read the sports section every day back when my parents subscribed to the Atlanta Constitution. I watched every game and asked my dad questions while we sat in front of the TV so I could learn the rules of baseball. I had plenty of baseball cards and books, including encyclopedias and biographies. I later found out from my mom that when I saw games from the Atlanta Fulton County Stadium outfield seats, I blocked out all the cuss words coming from the crowd because I all cared about was the game itself. All of this resulted because I went to these great lengths to have something to talk about. It just so happened that my hometown team won a lot of games at the time. They expected to contend for World Series wins when I discovered them. I wished I knew everything, more knowledge than could fit in my mind. I instead gained a ton of specialized knowledge in a short period of time. All I know is this is not as productive as it may sound.
So now I have described a narrow interest. Everyone assumes that this will be all an Asperger’s kid knows. As I write about my childhood recollections about baseball, you might guess that a sportswriter would be an optimal career path for a kid like me. Asperger’s ensured that I had plenty of comments both written and spoken to say. My absolutism meant I was so enraptured with baseball, it made it difficult to switch tasks. Together, Asperger’s and absolutism interfered with my ability to learn other concepts more meaningful to me. Absolutism about baseball won the battle in my head when I could have developed more well-rounded general skills such as art, music, and science. It’s still far easier to determine the main idea of a ballgame than a news article, or understand the procedure described in a how-to guide. But this wasn’t as fulfilling to me as it seemed.
What I really wanted was to play baseball and football. I was terrible. Uncoordination and fear of the baseball at age 11 makes an embarrassing combination. I was even booted out of the Jewish league I joined. Asperger’s meant I, like countless other boys of the same age, tied too much self-worth into playing a kid’s game. Absolutism let me look at photos or Sports Illustrated for Kids to see how some basic movements get executed. I was surprised to have done something right when my peers were just warming up before a pickup game. Asperger’s and absolutism helped me do something right but it took a massive time commitment that should have been spent elsewhere.
Out of all my peers who liked sports, their attention turned to football and basketball within a few years. This does not describe all my peers with other interests. Again, I wanted to be prepared. Absolutism meant that I wanted to learn about football. Aspergers helped me stash away another niche collection of knowledge in my head. Once I learned all the positions and their roles by diagramming them out, football kept my undivided attention. Yet only on Mondays after football weekends could I hold a conversation. This is an excellent way to feel lost and confused the rest of the week because I was unprepared to discuss any other subjects. In fact, Asperger’s and absolutism together let spectator sports get in my way of preparing for other things, long after I determined knowledge of the game gave me no additional benefit. For example, my friends as I took geology courses at Georgia State University were absolutely indifferent to football, and only once do I remember one of them talking about going to a Braves game as a social function. Yet I failed to prepare adequately for school. I often struggled to discuss the concepts I read over for school in appropriate depth. I prepared myself for a conversation that never came up when I had more important concerns in front of me such as exams. I watched so many games and highlights over the years that when my mind would start to drift, most of the time I pictured sports highlight montages. My head contained these same moving pictures so often that I even wanted to write a book about football as a metaphor for struggling despite never signing up for an organized team and rarely playing pickup games. I can still talk for days about this subject, but Asperger’s and absolutism make it a harder challenge to dive into other subjects that were and are more important to me. I felt a mental conflict. This entire time, I knew it was more important to be well-rounded. Instead I could not change my absolutism to study sports trivia.
What I wanted was something to talk about. I absolutely made up my mind that I would. Having a narrow interest is not what I planned. I wished even as a tiny child that I knew everything about all topics. So my sense of absolutism drove me to dive into one subject, baseball. What ended up happening is everyone around me felt, “Oh, he has Asperger’s, leave him in his own little corner.” Everyone was wrong. This conventional misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Asperger’s is never what I wanted at all. I didn’t want to be alone. I just wanted at least one person to talk to. I desperately wanted other contact. For many others like me, Asperger’s and absolutism leads down a path of unintended consequences even from a simple decision made as a child.
Written by Richard Kaplan Med.Sp.ed and Simon Huebner
Resource Education Solutions
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