The soundtrack of our compact house often sounds like this: a constant pounding — two-finger, hunt-and-peck style — on the keyboard in Ryan’s room as he types his hockey stats. Music from his iPod speaker, usually early vintage U2. And lately, the squeaking of his Air Jordans on the hardwood floors.
To all those sounds are occasionally added Ryan doing play-by-play of a hockey game. If he’s playing with his Hockey Guys, he accompanies the action with his announcing. His style is a mish-mash of catchphrases from various NHL play-by-play men that he has learned to mimic. Sometimes he watches online highlights from YouTube or NHL.com on mute, and instead calls the action himself. He asked for, and received, and “announcer’s headset” for Christmas, and has learned how to record himself on his iPad as he describes the play in front of him. No matter what, he does this at top volume.
Ryan will spend a week this summer at a sports announcing day camp run by a local television sports personality. Because of the time of year, the focus will be primarily on baseball. The campers visit a minor-league team and learn to conduct interviews. For the camp finale, they do play-by-play for a minor-league ballgame.
Ryan has a nascent interest in baseball. He is nominally a Washington Nationals fan. When we attended a Yankees game on a spur-of-the-moment outing last summer, he spent the train ride in studying the agate in the sports section of the newspaper, and then spent the game peppering me with stats questions — all in an effort to build a set of rules (ie, how many hits in a game is a little vs. typical vs. a lot) that help him understand and enjoy the game.
With camp approaching, we reminded him of the need to spend a little more time on baseball. In his typical fashion, Ryan approaches this the same way he does a school assignment. When he decides it’s time for baseball, he’s all in. He watches an entire game, refusing to miss a single pitch. He even kept score with me for a recent game.
And yesterday, when we walked through the camp schedule with him and suggested he might want to work on his baseball play-by-play, he threw himself into the task with the same 100% commitment.
I showed him how to find full game highlights on MLB.com and he was off. Suddenly, the top-of-his-lungs shouts coming from his room were about deep drives, home runs and great catches instead of slap shots and great saves.
He kept at it for close to an hour, causing Veronica and I to exchange a look of amazement at his singularity of focus. When Ryan decides he wants to do something — play hockey, ride a bike or get stronger — he rarely deviates until he has accomplished his goal.
That level of focus? The ability to pour oneself into a task until it is mastered, shutting out any and all distractions? I can’t do that.
It’s a gift, one that’s part of his unique brain wiring. And it is my sincere hope it is a gift that will carry him far — to a fulfilling car and a contented life.
A few years back, I might not have recognized it as such. But Ryan forces me to re-evaluate my thinking about autism on a regular basis. I recognize the challenges. I get frustrated by the difficulties. I have concerns for the future.
But along with all that, I have learned to appreciate the gifts.