Not Seeing Fast Enough

I love sports, but never made the varsity. Now I am okay with getting my sport fix on the radio, or a few games a year whether during March Madness, or football season. I wanted to play baseball as a kid, but after years of trying to make first string, I stopped making the team at all. I used to think I didn’t “see fast enough.” Maybe it was true. I won’t venture into the science behind the speed of light, vibrational frequencies, and hand-eye coordination; all I can do is relate what I have experienced.

About 15 years ago, my work afforded me the opportunity to throw out the first pitch at one of the AA games here in Richmond, and it was a laugh. Right in the dirt. Was it just my nerves? Was it a mental block? I think it was a combination of poor eyesight – even with glasses, lack of practice, maybe some timing, and, yes, the nerves that come with my autistic dance of dysregulation. Fortunately, my wife was there in the suite with my co-workers to stem the tide of ribbing. I survived.

I have worn glasses or contact lenses since age 5. In the Northern Neck region of Virginia where we lived at the time, my mom was my teacher at a private kindergarten. She had an Education degree in Home Economics and had taught several subjects in various schools, so we had tons of flash cards and kids’ books. I was fascinated by newspaper comics. Apparently, I had to know what the characters were saying! I began reading and writing as a two-year-old, much to everyone’s amazement. (This high verbal ability is probably what has masked my autism the most.)

One day in that kindergarten class, Mom asked me to read the board. I couldn’t do it. She knew I could read the words, but I could not see them. So, at age 5, I had my first eye exam and got some LOVELY glasses (maybe I’ll be brave enough to post photos in the future). Dark hornrims…the kind I later heard some fellow Army officers call “birth-control” glasses. I wear dark frames now — eyeglass styles keep coming back around. But as with most things fashion, I’m about two steps behind. On the way home from the optician, I remarked to my parents that I saw wires connecting the telephone poles. I did not know telephone lines existed; all I knew was everyone called these big vertical logs “telephone poles.” I hadn’t seen the wires before!

Even with glasses, I still had trouble with some sports. I wanted to play baseball but did not have much success (second string right field to a taller female in 5th grade – nothing against tall girls – but it was a still a funny story). Behind the plate, I didn’t do much. I hit a double in 6th grade – my best hit that I can remember. In the field, I caught the fly balls probably 7 out of 10 times. Funny, I had better aim throwing the ball from the outfield to the plate than I did during the simple task of playing catch. Once warming up during tryouts in 8th grade, I nailed the coach in the back with the ball! He made an executive decision right then, I am sure. I later found out he had made me team manager, filling water jugs and carrying bats out to the dugout from the fieldhouse. I did get to travel with the JV team…I was happy just being a part of the group. Coach was probably right; it was better to keep me out of the way of flying spheres, especially as hitters got older and fly balls became more difficult with higher speed and more curvature.

Contacts at age 16 helped with sports, but I still had bad aim with the baseball. I could throw and catch a football, a frisbee, a basketball…but my first love of baseball didn’t love me back. In ninth grade, I tried my hand at competitive swimming. Swimming seemed to work for me. Eyesight did not matter as much until I had to gauge a flip turn, and the large black line on the pool floor was always there. It was fun, and glad I trained and competed halfway seriously at some sport. My fitness and speed increased, I got serious about two practices a day, but I didn’t get many blue ribbons. Hand-eye coordination did not seem to cause too many problems during swimming; only one or two head bumps that I can remember. But when someone poolside asked me, “How many fingers am I holding up?” my answer was, “Where’s your hand?”

Probably my finest moment WITHOUT corrective lenses was making it through one day of obstacle course training at an ROTC camp during college. My glasses fell in the ravine we had to cross using a log…sorry, not true…I fell in the ravine…while doing a log crossing, and the current ripped my glasses off my head, leaving the straps behind. I had to lead my platoon from station to station the rest of the day half blind (around 20/400). Catwalks, monkey crawls on suspended ropes, floating down the creek with a shelter half…what a day! I survived the course, got the badge, and made it home to camp. This happened on Bart’s day to lead his training platoon – and Bart had no glasses. Divine help, and maybe the idea that one does not worry much about what he cannot see around him, are the only explanations.

Baseball and I have not fully parted ways, but I think we now have a mutual healthy respect for each other. I’m happy to sit in the stands, cracking open some sunflower seeds, and the professionals can worry about curve balls, timing, and all that other cool baseball stuff that I used to hunger to do.

Are most people on the autism spectrum in need of corrective lenses? One study I saw said 40% of children with autism have some sort of eye disorder. I was fortunate that my mom knew I could read, and that she figured out quickly that something was wrong when she did. Now, I see toddlers and preschoolers with glasses often. It is interesting to me as research grows how many health characteristics are statistically correlative with autism. That kind of information, especially about sleep and mood disorders, is what led my wife to find the connection.

As I learn more about the autism-mobile, I’ll get better at being able to accelerate or decelerate, or even change the oil or plugs at the right times…all as I drive with corrective lenses. Gotta keep shiftin’.

Published by Bart Shoaf

Blogging about victories and challenges as a middle-aged man with a late diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

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