April is National Autism Awareness Month (that's the poster for 2009 pictured on the left), and if you spend any time reading chess blogs or chess news, you've undoubtedly encountered posts and articles about a mysterious, hypothetical relationship between chess and autism.
Since I'm about as unaware as anyone can be, I decided to look into the subject. Researching it on the web is a bit tricky due to the name of one researcher in the field -- Stella Chess, 93, Psychiatrist and Author -- recently departed.
- autism + granny's lawn ballet 'I suspect there is some connection between autism and chess: the lack of interest in people, the fondness for repetition, the dislike of over-stimulation.' (lizzyknowsall.blogspot.com)
- Autistic chess champion takes on the world 'Many children with autism face a difficult life as they struggle to communicate and understand the world. They can also be withdrawn or aggressive. But one young Queensland boy has found a way out through chess and he's not only become a smiling champion but one of the country's best chess prospects ever.' (www.abc.net.au; Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
- The Mark of Genius: Memory, Autism, and Chess 'with regards to Kim Peek [earlier described as 'The Real Rainman']: yes, there are chess folks like this.' (dk-transformation.blogspot.com)
- Autistic Chess Expert Wins Horatio Alger Scholarship 'William John Barrow, a nineteen-year-old chess Expert from Virginia, is a living example of the American dream. Despite the many hardships he has faced during his childhood and adolescence, he has from his earliest days striven to make himself a success' (www.associatedcontent.com; by Chess Life's Jonathan Hilton)
The relationship works in other ways. Here is a post from the Age of Autism, the 'Daily Web Newspaper of the Autism Epidemic', where chess principles provide guidance in a difficult struggle.
- Olmsted on Autism: The Art of Chess 'Many years ago -- in fact, on Christmas Day, 1963 -- I received a book called The Art of Chess. [by James Mason; ...] Friends, we're playing White. And it's our move.' (www.ageofautism.com; 'Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.')
Then there's Asperger's syndrome. What's the connection? Wikipedia explains:
Autism: 'a brain development disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior. These signs all begin before a child is three years old.'
Asperger syndrome: '(also called Asperger's syndrome, Asperger's disorder, Asperger's or AS) is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and people with AS therefore show significant difficulties in social interaction and restricted, stereotyped patterns of behavior and interests. AS differs from other ASDs by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development.'
Autism spectrum: 'The autism spectrum, also called autism spectrum disorders (ASD) or autism spectrum conditions (ASC), with the word autistic sometimes replacing autism, is a spectrum of psychological conditions characterized by widespread abnormalities of social interactions and communication, as well as severely restricted interests and highly repetitive behavior.'
What famous people have Asperger's Syndrome?: 'Most of the people on the following list are speculated to have Asperger's Syndrome, rather than being confirmed cases of Asperger's Syndrome.' You'll likely be surprised by some of the names on the list, which includes 'Bobby Fischer, 1943-, US chess champion' More: Chess Incarnate Bobby Fischer on the Spectrum: 'In reading about his life and quirks it seems quite probable to me that Bobby Fischer was on the Asperger’s spectrum'.
I hope to return to the subject before National Autism Awareness Month, April 2010.