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A Love of Soccer Taught Me About My Autism Journey

I discovered that no matter what, I'm never walking alone.

For over 80% of my life, I felt like I was walking alone. Not in the religious sense, but alone in that I had no one around me who understood me. This was especially true before I was diagnosed with Asperger’s.

Let’s jump in the Way Back Machine (did anyone catch the “Sherman & Peabody” reference?) and look back a few years.

When I was ten years old, soccer first came to my Southern California city, and I loved it. But I sucked at it. Sucked in a big way. How big?

My first coach told me early in the season, “I only play you half a game because I have to.” Well, that will do wonders for a kid’s self-esteem. But I kept playing and eventually got better. Not good enough to make my high school team, but I got better.

I played club soccer and eventually got a scholarship to a tiny college with a coach who doubled as an economics teacher and took a two-week coaching course to get certified as a coach. That story is a huge train wreck for another day.

Fast forward back to today. Most Saturday and Sunday mornings during football season (European football season), you can usually find me on my couch around six or seven AM with some hot tea and a little breakfast.

Why am I up so early? It’s the English Premier League (EPL). With a six-hour time difference between London and Missouri, that means their early afternoon games are my early morning matches. I love all things EPL. I love the fanbase for the different clubs, I love how they support their side, and I especially love how almost 46,000 at Anfield (the home stadium of Liverpool) come together to sing You'll Never Walk Alone by Gerry & The Peacemakers before the game.

To be clear, I am and always will be a Manchester City supporter, but I have a deep respect for Liverpool. The tradition and the rivalries of European soccer are something not to miss.

One morning, as Liverpool was coming onto the pitch (field), I noticed the track jackets the team was wearing. Across the back, in bright letters, was, “YOU’LL NEVER WALK ALONE.”

I whipped out my phone right there on the couch and started researching that (as those of us on the spectrum tend to do when we want answers) and found it was the official motto of the club, and it’s even on the gate as you enter the stadium.

After my autism diagnosis, I felt alone. I didn’t know anyone who was autistic. At least I didn’t know anyone willing to admit they’re autistic.

Eventually, I did meet people on the spectrum and began self-advocating for myself and anyone else who needed a voice.

As my advocacy work grew, I met more and more people like me, and now I know that no matter what happens in life, I have people I can count on, and I know that I’ll never walk alone.

It's been fifteen years since I was told I had Asperger's Syndrome (now Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD). Even though I know there are scores of us out there, I still have moments where I feel alone. Moments where it seems like I'm the only person out there with a brain that's differently wired.

In those moments, I turn to my Facebook groups, read the writings of some of my advocate friends, or talk to one or two of my autistic friends. If you struggle with feelings of loneliness and feel like no one understands, then you get what I'm talking about.

What’s it like for you? Do you feel like you’re walking alone? You’re not. Thousands of people like you are willing to walk with you and support you through your journey.

If you feel like you’re alone, look for Facebook groups, or hit up some of the self-advocates who deal with the same things as you. They’re willing to help and to make sure no one walks alone. You will find someone. If you don't, hit me up.

Tell me about your journey. Do you walk alone, do you walk with others? Are you struggling? Are you thriving? We want to know.

Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart, and you’ll never walk alone.

A version of this piece first appeared on The Mighty.

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