For most sports fan, our love for our team is a break from our regular lives. We celebrate with them when they are winning, we complain and vent when they are losing. Sure, it may seem like the most important thing in the world at times, but generally it is just a diversion.
Then there is the case of Erin Bolen, a fan of the Dallas Stars and a member of Defending Big D, SBN's Stars blog. She is a Stars fan and in many ways her fandom is like the rest of ours, except for one major difference. Erin has Asperger Syndrome, and for those not familiar with that, I'll let her words describe it.
Asperger Syndrome is a type of Autism Spectrum Disorders at the higher-functioning end of the scale. Given that it's the end of Autism Awareness Month, here are the basics.
What it means in practice is that like all people with an ASD, someone with AS processes the world in a markedly different way. Almost all people with AS struggle with the unwritten social cues and language most people understand intuitively. There is often a lack of or severely misplaced empathy (the term I like to use for myself is ruthlessly pragmatic, with an emphasis on the ruthless). This leads to great difficulty in forming social relationships. Even if the person with AS is interested in being friends, they may be off-putting to others, and they have difficulty understanding how to invite oneself into a group of friends or read the subtle signs that someone is interested.
People with AS also develop obsessive interests, and you get one guess as to what mine is. Along these lines, people with AS tend to be overly anxious about changes in patterns and routines, and they tend to be very literal, getting hung up on semantics and missing sarcasm.
Finally, people with AS tend to have sensory issues, though it's unclear whether this is due to simply being more sensitive than average or if the brain lacks the ability to tune out background signals. I call these my "Spidey senses," and when it's bad, I swear I hear every conversation in the room at once.
Knowing that, you may wonder what this has to with the Dallas Stars. According to Erin, becoming a fan of the Stars has allowed her to make social connections she never would have had otherwise. Going to Stars games has helped her overcome her problems with sensory overload. In short, her obsession with the Stars has helped her deal with the wiring of her brain.
So how, then, did the Stars open so many doors to me? They gave me an outlet for that obsessive interest that then translated into so many positive things, from social connections to employment opportunities. Because I became so interested in the Stars, I was able to unconsciously push myself to develop coping strategies that have trickled over into other areas of my life.
She goes on to laud the Stars for their open policies towards their fanbase, and gives examples of how they have given back to their community.
I suggest you jump over to Defending Big D and read Erin's story in its entirety. It's an inspiring read and helps put things in perspective.
SB Nation sites and communities are virtual homes for sports fans to connect about their favorite teams. They are generally conceived to be an outlet for our sports obsessions. But when they help someone like Erin deal with her illness, we are grateful and proud.