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Managing life with asperger’s on and off the court

This guest post is from Matt Barnthouse an adult with autism who is the manager for Ole Miss Men's college basketball team. Autism awareness is about to take center stage again this year for the 3rd Annual Coaches Powering Forward for Autism in College Hoops on Feb 19-21! Anyone can participate in Coaches Powering Forward for Autism by joining their favorite coach or school’s fundraising team during the NCAA basketball season at 

My name is Matt Barnthouse, and I have Asperger Syndrome. However, most people know me as Matt Barnthouse, manager for Ole Miss Men’s Basketball.

For those that do not know, Asperger Syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder, which according to Autism Speaks is  “considered to be on the 'high functioning' end of the (autism) spectrum. Affected children and adults have difficulty with social interactions and exhibit a restricted range of interests and/or repetitive behaviors.”

Like most people with Asperger Syndrome, my interests are very intense. When I like something, I end up developing a borderline obsession with it. In my case, I have a deep love for the game of basketball.

My day usually consists of going to class in the morning, eating lunch, and then going to basketball practice until late afternoon, typically until 5 P.M. It is very time consuming, but that is just the way I prefer it to be.

I love my job, and am very good at it. I mostly work with film. I record practices, and cut up the film so the coach does not have to filter through all of the downtime that happens in practice. I use my Photoshop skills to make “mail-outs” that promote the basketball program. I also provide my labor to many other odd jobs that may come up throughout the day.

I hope that one day, I can be a head coach at the college or pro level. If that dream does not work out, I want to be a basketball analyst for ESPN, or some other media outlet. I don’t quite know which path I want to take with my career quite yet, but when I do decide, I know that I will be a major success in whichever career path I choose.

Basketball does not come without its struggles, though. I often have difficulty communicating with my coworkers and often misunderstand the directions that they try to give me. This sometimes leads to heated arguments.  I often struggle with implicit directions, so my coworkers have learned to be very specific when giving me directions.

Thankfully, over a decade of therapy helped me overcome many of the difficulties with social interaction that people with Asperger Syndrome often face. I cannot naturally read facial expressions or pick-up social cues, but I’ve learned to look for certain cues that help me understand what the person I am talking to is saying. I still am not perfect, but I am no longer completely incompetent in social situations.

Truth be told, I did not find out about Autism Speaks “#AutismHoops” until the night before it happened, and when I looked deeper into the event, and found out my team was participating, I figured it was the perfect time to tell my story.  

I do not often like to talk about my struggle with Asperger syndrome because I don’t want to use it as a crutch. I don’t want people to look at me as, “the autistic kid.” I am so much more than that. In fact, I now blend into society well enough to where most people don’t even think I have autism.

However, I fear that people will look at me differently now that I am being open about my autism. I feel that the media typically portrays autism in its most severe form, and people that do not know very much about autism fail to realize that it exists in very mild forms. I wish to be seen as a human being, not a label.

I am not telling my story to find sympathy. I am telling my story because I want the world to understand the struggles that many people like me go through every day.

I will attain my dreams some day. I may have to use different strategies and overcome different obstacles to get to my dreams, but I guarantee that I will find a way to be the best I can be. Never let a disability define who you are. You are a human being. Be the best human being you can possibly be.

Are you an NCAA basketball fan? Join our “Coaches Powering Forward for Autism” campaign to raise awareness and funds for autism research and family services which will culminate February 19 to 21! Throughout the weekend, coaches, officials and broadcasters will raise autism awareness by donning the blue Autism Speaks puzzle piece pin during college basketball games. Find out more info at /coaches

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.