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How Watching Basketball Puts Me at Ease as a Person on the Autism Spectrum

Lately (read: the last several months), I have felt stuck in my head. I have a lot I want to say, but I can’t make the words come out. With #AutismHoops coming up, I wanted to write about why basketball matters to me as an individual on the autism spectrum. I think this event provides an opportunity to raise awareness in front of a unique population, and hopefully, generate acceptance for all individuals on the autism spectrum.

There are very few things in which I feel completely at ease. Watching basketball is one. I’m so thankful for that. It wasn’t always that way. Playing basketball didn’t put me at ease like watching basketball did. I enjoyed playing, when my knee allowed it.

But I flourished when I got to watch it. When my college basketball team started using Internet film exchange and I got that password… man. I loved it. I’d watch games instead of doing homework. I’d watch games before bed, when I couldn’t sleep, when I was so anxious I would vomit, when I couldn’t make my brain be quiet. When I watched basketball, I felt right.

The autistic mind works differently than most. Some people refer to certain forms of autism as “Wrong Planet Syndrome,” and I feel that way very often. But when I’m watching basketball, I know I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

I have a difficult time imagining myself later in life. I always have. I never thought I’d have a career. I thought I would always live at home and work for my parents. I wasn’t hopeful. When I applied and was accepted to the So You Want To Be A Coach program, I was terrified. I would get physically sick at the thought of having to introduce myself to another speaker. Our mentor approached me and said she was worried about me. When I took a graduate assistant position, people said I should reconsider. That I would never make it in this profession. I would never be able to connect or network.

When I found my niche, I stopped listening and I started hoping. Basketball gives me a purpose. It allows my brain to thrive by providing a mental challenge. My brain loves patterns. I love that patterns give a sense of routine and are a reliable means of prediction. I think that’s why I’m good at my job as a video coordinator. I get paid to watch basketball and find the patterns, to predict what is going to happen. And I’m good at it.

People ask me questions and want to know what I think. Me. I can’t look you in the eye. I can’t stand for you to touch me. I hate the noisy arenas — the bands, the crowds, the horns, the whistles. These are all really important parts of basketball. Somehow, for me, it works. I don’t have to network or connect anymore. I just have to be me and do what I love.

So when you see coaches wearing their blue puzzle pieces, don’t think about the limits that autism imposes on individuals. Don’t think about the “can’t” or the “won’t.” I’ve felt the despair that comes with not being able to imagine a successful future for myself. Some days, I feel it still.

When the world says, “Give up,” hope whispers, “Try it one more time.”

Instead, change your perception, and change your definition of success. I hope you will not give up. I hope you find your basketball.

Women's basketball team in a gymnasium

Follow this journey on Erinmmckinney.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.