I did not have a post in mind when I left the house this morning. I had bits and pieces of one perhaps, but not enough of a common thread to pull together. Besides, I had a late beer-league hockey game last night and the thought of a nap on the train sounded appealing.
‘Being autistic, to me, means a lot of different things, but one of the best things is that I can be so happy, so enraptured about things no one else understands and so wrapped up in my own joy that, not only does it not matter that no one else shares it, but it can become contagious. This is the part about autism that I can never explain. This is the part I never want to lose.’
Julia Bascom’s depiction of the joy of autistic obsessions tells a story about autism that is very rarely told. It tells of a world beyond impairments and medical histories, where the multiples of seven can open a floodgate of untranslatable joy, where riding a train can make everything feel perfectly sized and full of light, and where flapping your hands just so amplifies everything you feel. The Obsessive Joy of Autism will resonate powerfully with other autistic people, and encourage those who have a person with autism in their lives to look out for that joy, to chase it, to get obsessed.
Suddenly, the bits and pieces — the old videos of Ryan I watched yesterday, something I observed while he was watching hockey last night — had a common thread.
If you watch Ryan PLAY hockey, his joy is unmissable. It emanates from him at every turn — from the smile that shines through his facemask, to the exaggerated celebrations, to the occasional play-by-play voice that accompanies various drills.
One could observe Ryan celebrating a goal in a practice drill like he just won the Stanley Cup and think, perhaps that’s a bit excessive. Maybe he’s not doing it how you’re supposed to. And he has had to learn to tone things down a bit. But Ryan is not showing anyone up. He just has an irrepressible joy that cannot be contained when he’s on a sheet of ice playing his favorite sport.
If you watch Ryan WATCH hockey, his joy is unmissable. Watching NHL games each evening is part of his post-homework, post-dinner, pre-bedtime routine. He settles in front of the basement TV, the “hockey room” in our house. One game goes on the television. Another on his iPad. Sometimes a third on his phone. He pops in and out of the study next to the TV room, where there is a computer on which he can type stats when he feels the need. He grabs his hockey stick and works on his puck-handling with a street-hockey ball.
One could observe Ryan as a hive of activity, three games playing on various devices while he types on a computer in the next room or stick-handles through various obstacles, checking the score on each game every few seconds, and think, perhaps that’s a bit excessive. Maybe he’s not doing it how you’re supposed to. But Ryan is just consuming his favorite thing through as many simultaneous contact points as possible, and nothing makes him happier.
Aside: Yes, there have been times when Ryan’s obsessive love of hockey has boiled over into a negative that have been well documented in this space. The cause of those episodes, I can assure you, is anxiety, not hockey.
I found the videos on my Facebook page when I was looking for a “Throwback Thursday” photo of my kids yesterday. I had forgotten about their existence — clips of Ryan playing in hockey at various clinics when he was much younger. I watched each in succession, with headphones on. One thing stood out. Here, see for yourself:
Did you take from those clips the same thing I did?
Those celebrations? Those weren’t a learned behavior. I didn’t teach him to react like that. It was evident from the first moments we took him to a hockey clinic. Every time a puck entered the net, it touched off a wild celebration, and such happiness I barely have the words to describe it.
Then last night, on a night when nine of the 11 games on the NHL schedule had playoff implications, Ryan came upstairs with his iPad, on which he was watching one of the other two games: Philadelphia-Carolina. I joked with him that not even Flyers and Hurricanes fans were watching that game.
At that thought, he was incredulous. How could a fan not watch? It’s hockey after all. And for Ryan, hockey means one thing.
And reading the description of Julia Bascom’s book just put a nice little bow on all of it. Ryan doesn’t enjoy hockey in spite of his unique brain wiring. He revels in the joy it brings him BECAUSE of his unique brain wiring.
And that stirs something in me.