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Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Mad handles as Asperger's cure

By Henry Abbott

James Herbert of Hardwood Paroxysm:
Before I picked up a basketball there were not a lot of areas where I excelled. This is the complete list: running in circles, yelling, smiling, breaking things, and disrupting my parents’ sleep. With anything involving concentration, I lagged behind the other kids. With anything involving hand-eye coordination, I lagged way behind the other kids. Coloring inside the lines? Couldn’t do it. Playing a musical instrument? Couldn’t do it. Swimming? Couldn’t do it, and dreaded being forced to try. I was born prematurely and although most of my earliest memories revolve around the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I am aware that I spent lots of time in a variety of doctors’ offices where I was diagnosed with developmental disorders ranging from ADD to Asperger’s to Tourette’s.

For some kids on the autism spectrum in their developmental years, not much progress can be made. For others, treatment can enormously improve quality of life. If you’re really lucky, treatment can eventually eliminate any signs of being different. I was absurdly lucky that my absolute hero of a mom dedicated every second of her time to helping me. Basketball ended up being a huge part of it. She exposed me to Magic, Michael, and Larry through NBA home videos and something clicked with me. I internalized the stories of how hard they worked and wanted to be one of them. Preferably Magic. So I practiced dribbling. Over and over, every day, even though I was terrible for the first couple of years. I kept at it, exhibiting a sort of discipline I’d previously never shown in any capacity. It was the extreme focus that I would have needed to become a good swimmer or violinist or whatever, but I didn’t care about those things. I loved to dribble a basketball.

Eventually, I was awesome at basketball for my age. And I became a damn good student, too, as my mom found out I was a sponge as long as I had a basketball in my hands. My other problems? Well, my hand-eye coordination got worlds better in general. My tics went away when I was dribbling a basketball … and since I was dribbling a basketball almost all of the time, at a certain point they were gone for good. Also, and this might shock you, people want to be friends with you when you’re good at a sport. I ended up teaching the kids who played more popular sports how to play mine. Basketball completely turned my social world upside down and re-wired my brain at a young age and I have those tapes of creative ballhandlers to thank for it.