Autistic Athleticism

Usually, theatergoers are attracted to those movies: films portraying underdogs competing in a professional sport, wherein the thrill of the sporting event has added dramatic elements that engage, and inspire, the audience watching the movie. There are movies about African-American athletes competing in the Jim Crow-era South, about mentally challenged athletes rising to their best through the sport, and there are even a few movies about autistic individuals, “A Mile in His Shoes” being one of them. But movies are all about the past, they are all about telling a story, fiction or non-fiction, about an individual who transpires to become the focal point of whatever movie they’re in due to their inspirational tendencies, usually filtered through a Hollywood filter, where everything becomes needlessly glamorized. Why not shine a light on the athletes, specifically athletes with autism, who are competing in the present?

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My history in the realm of sports is very brief. I’ve always been a very slow runner with very low stamina, enough to where walking a mile would take an hour for me to complete, and I only got involved with the practice of sporting due to the requirements to do so until the end of the ninth grade. I did amass a short list of accomplishments throughout my trials in the world of sports, from becoming the “MVP” of a soccer league to taking out the champion wrestler at my High School, and I found some pride in succeeding in highly kinetic sports like Soccer and Hockey, but it never was a field that I was going to enter in. I do admire, though, those who make a field like that as their career, becoming more than just athletes, but historical icons.

And, yes, being a successful autistic athlete may be a little bit of a gift. While the diagnosis focuses, distinctly, on communication skills, delayed gross motor skills are also considered a common symptom of having ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). What are gross motor skills? According to the Encyclopedia of Children’s Health “Gross motor skills are the abilities required in order to control the large muscles of the body for walking, running, sitting, crawling, and other activities.” If you have Asperger’s Syndrome, for example, then the neurologists will say that one of the symptoms is in being clumsy, it is also thought of that early diagnoses of those with autism will find kids that cannot walk in a straight line towards the tester during some diagnosis tests. Thus, it is a lot harder to imagine anyone athletically active, and successful, who happens to also be autistic.

Well, while doing my research I actually did come across one such gentleman. The man’s name is John “Doomsday” Howard and he is a professional MMA fighter, specializing in kickboxing, who got the clinical diagnosis of autism. There are other MMA fighters with autism, like Serena “The Southpaw Outlaw” DeJesus and Connor “Captain Redbeard” Gross, but Mr. Howard actually has a record of participating in a few of the major league events held by the UFC organization.


In an interview conducted with him in July, John Howard admits that he was very interested in learning about his diagnosis, even if in his case it is “mild and low”, due to the “many variants” of the disorder, and that it cleared up any mysteries about his life, stating that it was “good to know”. To him, autism isn’t really a setback as much as it is a fact of life. He responds to a question I ask him referring to an article from 2013 written by Coach Doug DuPont who analyzes MMA as a good field for those who are autistic, and whether or not there is any truth to it of which he confirms for me that he is very good at repetition, not uncommon for those on the spectrum and that repetition is very important to the sport of MMA. He ended our conversation by noting his social media presence on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, just type in John “Doomsday” Howard on any of these platforms to find him.

In conclusion, you can be a successful athlete and still have autism. There is even a runner by the name of Michael “Mikey” Brannigan who has competed in the Paralympics and is so fast that he sees himself as competing in the actual Olympics in the future, and he is autistic. Just like any inspirational sports movie, it is not about genetic determinism or fate as much as the will of the player in competition or outside to change the course of history, and to declare victory in the arena of the sport.


For The Love of Autism: A Realistic Story on “Love”

Generally, in the past, the common elements of inspiration from parent to child have been the eventual life of a home, a job, and a spouse. Now, as I mentioned in my first post, just telling someone on the spectrum to “get a job” isn’t as easy as it seems. A home could be possible with two incomes, , but having two incomes would require both participants to have jobs first. A later blog post may also offer other potential challenges about the “home” situation, like a transitional period where you may have to have roommates. And that brings us to the wife situation.

I remember reading somewhere that 10% of all autistic adults are married, which shocked me, somewhat. First reading about the employment statistics, and now this!? Hell, if you were an autistic adult, having a full-time job, which is a lot less common than those employed with autism who work part-time, and being a husband, or wife, would already make you sort of an outlier according to all of these statistics. Even the Natural Variation – Autism Blog, which champions neurodiversity, has put out statistics that show that 33% of autistic individuals, in general, are married, while 7% are divorced/separated/widowed, which means that 40% of all autistic adults have been married in their lives. While, according to the comparable statistics, the divorce rate is higher for neurotypicals,, it still counts that 76% of neurotypicals HAVE been married at some point in their lives, so what gives?

But you didn’t come here just to get statistics, graphs and models on the subject of autistic marriage, right? You came here to see if your new friend could give some “insights” on the subject.

I’ve lived on this Earth for over 30 years. And through those 30 years, I’ve never been married, in fact I’ve never been in a relationship before. And it is not that I don’t want one, I am dying for the kind of relationship that I would like. A beautiful woman, who would make me feel young, who doesn’t have the same eccentricities that I have, except for one or two, and who can tolerate my mind. I may not feel depressed again as long as she is with me. Wouldn’t it be so easy to find one?

Well, one of my educated guesses on why the statistic is the way it is may not be completely about incompatible social communication, but it is about one word: shyness.

It has usually been that I am not completely in love to talk to people who I don’t know, sometimes, though I do have a strong desire to open up to people, perhaps stronger than many neurotypicals do. It has also not been in my favor, that the girls, and women, that I’ve wanted over the years were completely unattainable to me, since I am overweight and don’t feel attractive. It has been so difficult walking the world alone, thinking that a miracle could happen, I guess now I know how a monk feels.

For example, for my Middle School’s farewell dance, there was a girl there who I really wanted to go out with, and I had this temptation to dance with her. Unfortunately I couldn’t even ask her myself, so I sent my best friend at the time as sort of a messenger to relay our messages back to each other. Eventually after a disembodied conversation, that same girl told me that she wasn’t “ready yet”.

But, to me, the opposite gender, especially the neurotypical types, are still not completely blameless in this field. I don’t know who came up with the rules of romantic engagement and initiation, it seems like an instinctual rule that has been passed down since the beginning of time, but this one rule makes my shyness even worse. What rule am I talking about? That the man has to initiate a conversation. Many autistic individuals who have desires for romantic relationships may be very shy. They may feel a sense of nervousness and anxiety, due to any feeling of undesired social awkwardness on their parts. What that rule does is it privileges the playboy over the geek, the madman over the quiet genius, and it really should end. Now, not all women are like this, nor are all assertive guys like it either, but we live in the 21st century and all old unwritten rules should be updated for these contemporary times.

In conclusion: You can’t go wrong dating someone with autism, even if you feel worlds apart. Love isn’t based on material things, it isn’t based on job security, what it is based on, is love.



The Puzzled Jungle: One Hunter’s Journey to Employment

For me, starting off in the workforce wasn’t as timely, or as easy as it would be for someone who doesn’t have my hang-ups. The first real job I had was at the age of 20, delayed by being in an Independent Living Program for two years, and it was as a bagger at a local grocery store chain. While many people would find a job like that easy, and possibly refreshing, I found it to be nothing more than very stressful. The anxieties of dealing with customers, and cart management, were intensified through my outlook, but also it was the endless futility of such a simple process as mopping the store floors. For some reason, perhaps motor skills-related, mopping was so difficult for me that I would mop the floors over and over again, with very little luck. Because of the stress, I went through burn-out, dusted myself off and tried to move on.

Unfortunately, getting a replacement job was a very difficult prospect. I couldn’t, and still cannot, drive myself so I was limited in my options. I had a few placements, but they didn’t last very long and weren’t hospitable enough for my livelihood. Most importantly, more than being unable to drive and just plain bad luck, I had to deal with two major obstacles while trying to procure a subsequent job: psychological assessment tests and my own shyness.

Through years of interviews, applications, and the like, I’ve also learned that many employers are uninterested in following anything up unless you are communicable enough to put their feet to the fire. I got to have an interview with an electronic retail store, of which I was told that if I did “very good”, than there would be room to grant me two more interviews. I remember being told those exact words, but it took 6 months to grant me a second interview, due to a disinterest in communication with me, unless I put their feet to the fire.

The six and a half years I spent at the retail store were to become a time of relief, but also a time of irritation and constant bitterness. One of the worst parts of working there was being required to work on the day of Black Friday.  While I hated it for other reasons than just for autistic-exclusive ones, anyone on the spectrum could relate to the stress and anxiety of having to work around all of those customers on such a frenzied day of the year.

In my anger over Black Friday and a feeling of exhaustion working in the retail industry, I started applying for jobs as fast as I could trying to get out of the “retail trap”.  Once you work retail, it is difficult to get interested employers besides sales companies, or more retailers.  One bit of rhetoric that I started using in interviews was how accomplished I was as an autistic individual in having gainful employment when so many of my peers were unemployed.

UN statistics cite the percentage as 80%.

Part of the problem is that many companies get very reluctant in hiring people with mental disabilities due to accommodation costs imposed from ADA regulations and the increased likelihood of layoffs.

Eventually, through continuous effort to find more satisfying employment, I found the Els for Autism Foundation. They gave me a job more suited to me as an individual, a way out from the mindlessness of constant customer service and the ability to help others affected by autism.


Do you have any stories of employment challenges of your own and how you overcame them?  We’d like to hear in comments, below.