Susan's Blog

Friday, March 31, 2006

Paying Court

The other night I gave a reading near New Haven, CT (drove four hours and sold only two books, half the audience was my family, I’m still exhausted, but okay, never mind, still a good conversation with the people there…). At one point, a woman in the audience started talking about J-Mac, and she made an interesting point. She wondered why everyone was so surprised that a kid on the autism spectrum would be able to be so focused and in the zone so that he could shoot so many baskets in a row like that. “It’s a trait of ASD,” she said, smiling. “People are surprised because they are not used to thinking of autistic traits as being beneficial, but if this kid was in the zone, it’s because he is probably often in the zone!” I laughed because I realized she was probably right. One excellent aspect of having autism is the gift of profound focus. I know I wish I had more of it.

It got me thinking about Nat and his recent affinity for basketball, particularly after I received an email from Dave, the stepdad of a kid on Nat’s Special Olympics basketball team. Dave had recently invited Ned and Nat to play basketball with him and Philip once the season ended, and a few weeks ago, they went. I wrote an essay about the whole experience, which I am still trying to publish, so I cannot yet blog it, but here is what Dave had to say about the day (I hope he doesn’t mind that I am quoting from his email, which brought me to tears, and had Ned saying enthusiastically, “Dave is such a good guy!”):

I have a few memories from that day that I’ll never forget. As soon as Nat came out of the house, walked up and surpised me by saying, “Hi, Dave” (He might have actually said ‘David’ — but I was still stuck on the fact that he greeted me!) I knew at that point that he really wanted to play. I was also touched that he called me by my name.

A few other high points / surprises for me:
• After he took a few shots, I would ask for a “high five!” which for which he would offer a respectable hand smack, but after he got warmed up and started hitting a few mid-range baskets, he would give me honest-to-goodness high fives with some power to them.
• His hand position on the ball forced his shots to fly too low. It seemed that he needed to give his shots more lift, but I couldn’t figure out how to show him what to do. Finally, I realized that if he only used one hand, he would be forced place his hand under the ball for support. This position is exactly what I though he needed to give his shot more arc. Sure enough, on the first try he bounced the ball high off the glass and into the net… using only one hand!
• Later, Nat got a little winded and sat down for a few minutes. While he rested, Ned and I were chasing Phil around. After getting a bit winded myself, I came over to the sidelines and told Nat, “Ok, my turn to rest. Get up and take my place.” Without hesitation, he lept up and started shooting again.
• Watching Phil try to block Nat’s shots, and seeing Nat make adjustments to get them over Phil’s reach. A little defensive pressure made a big difference in Nat’s activity.
• At the very end when everyone was just about finshed, I was impressed how Nat would go after his missed shot and instead of picking up the ball with his hands, he would roll the ball with hist foot. Just when I expected him to let the ball roll away, he would make a swift, and accurate motion with his foot, bring the ball to a stop, and then, as if pondering his next move, would rock the ball under his foot.

I do believe that not enough was made of the possibility that J-Mac’s ability was directly linked to autistic focus. But more than that, I think, after reading this, that it is not necessarily about basketball or even focus. I think the success of Nat and J-Mac at this particular sport is all about the favorable attention they got from the people they were working with directly. Just enough, and just the right kind of attention. A guy-kind of attention, not too touchy-feely, just “Hey, dude, let’s play!” and then, “Hey, dude, awesome job!”

1 comment

I was hoping to make the trip to the reading but parenting kept me away. It would have only been about a half hour drive for me. And I would have bought a book!

I’ll be keeping a lookout for another chance.

— added by Shawn on Tuesday, April 4, 2006 at 11:37 pm