How football unlocked the heart of boy with autism


“Well, that took about five minutes…probably less.”

Jack sounds pleased with himself if not at all surprised.

He has just reeled off every single FA Cup winning team since 1984 — but that was a tad slow compared to what has gone before.

Without hesitation, Jack lists every Formula One champion in the history of the sport in chronological order. In no time at all, he then reels off the champions of darts.

And for good measure, he lists each and every single world snooker winner.

Football World Cup winners? No problem. Champions League winners? Easy.

“Because of my autism, I knew all the statistics whether it be previous winners or former players,” he tells CNN.

“If anyone ever got lippy at school about knowing lots about football then I could crush them with my knowledge.”

It’s not just various sports that Jack can effortlessly memorize — at school he knew the timetables of all his classmates and could let them know which subject they had at any time of the day.

Now 22, Jack was officially diagnosed with Asperger’s, a form of autism, at the age of 19 while at university.

According to the National Autistic Society, autism is a lifelong developmental disability which can affect how that person communicates and relates to others.

Categorized as a spectrum condition, which means that while all people with the condition share certain difficulties, autism affects each and every person in different ways.

“It affects the way I walk or talk, my mannerisms,” says Jack as he describes the way his life has been affected by Asperger’s, admitting he suffers with anxiety and as child found it difficult to make friends.

At school, he would walk around the playground on his own for the first few weeks of term.

It was only once a ball appeared in the playground that he felt able to interact.

“Football helped me because it was one of the few ways I could happily communicate with kids,” he says.

“This sounds cliché, but you don’t need many words when you have a ball, you just need some goals and somewhere to play.

“Until two years ago, almost all my social interaction involved or at least started with football.

“Almost all of my friendships derived from playing football either on the road I grew up on or at school, where as you can imagine I was cripplingly shy and was fairly hopeless trying to make friends.”

While playing football has helped Jack integrate and make friends, something he has struggled to do in the past, it’s the love and devotion to his club, English Premier League Tottenham, which has really helped him cope with his Asperger’s.

Just the mention of the word “Tottenham” or “Spurs”, the club’s nickname, seems to bring an instant response to Jack’s language.

He reels off the names of their 1961 Double winning team without hesitation — and then he says, “don’t even bother checking that on Wikipedia.”

In 2013, Spurs helped Jack get through a particularly bad bout of anxiety.

“I was lifeless at the time,” he recalls.

“The only exception to feeling like a zombie was when Spurs played, because they provided a release from everything else in my life and also because it would take my mind off things.

“I’d feel actual emotion and happiness when Spurs won. I’d forget my anxieties for an hour or two because of the emotion induced by the team’s results. “

Raising awareness

Jack is not alone in his pursuit of a sporting outlet — there are many others who take similar paths in dealing with their autism.

Dan Marino, the former American Football star, opened a center with his wife Claire after his son Michael was diagnosed with autism.

The foundation, which is based in Florida, has raised more than $50 million since its inception and has its own aquatics center.

Ernie Els, the South African golfer, became involved with raising money for autism after his son Ben was diagnosed at the age of seven.

In 2009, the Els for Autism Foundation was launched in Florida with the $30 million Center of Excellence opening in March 2014.

In the U.S. major sporting bodies such as Nascar, Major League Baseball, NFL and NBA are all helping to raise money and awareness.

An estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is that one in 68 children has some kind of autism disorder.

The CDC says the latest estimate is 30% higher than the total reported in 2012 which recorded one in in 88 children would be on the spectrum.

While the ratio was one to 175 children in Alabama, New Jersey’s was one in 45.

According to figures provided by the British National Autistic Society, there are around 700,000 people in the UK with autism.

Full article here

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