Piecing together an understanding of autism

A few eagle-eyed MASN viewers have written to ask about the puzzle-piece lapel pin worn by color analyst Jim Palmer during recent broadcasts. In this edition of his MASNsports.com blog, Palmer explains the special significance of the accessory.

It’s for autism awareness. My stepson is autistic - actually, Aspergers, which is supposedly a higher functioning form of the autism spectrum - and they’re trying to figure out what causes autism. Nobody knows. It used to be one out of every 70 boys, but that number’s come down. One out of every 110 kids; that number’s come down. So it’s much more prevalent. The puzzle (piece) is that they’re looking for an answer.

I have a wonderful wife and anytime you’re dealing with autism or Aspergers, it’s 24/7 - it doesn’t go away. Spencer is a little savant. He has a photographic memory and knows more about trains, or as much about trains, than anybody in the United States. He could go give a class - he could actually do that.

You know those Dos Equis ads about the most interesting man in the world? Well, I always say we have the most interesting 14-year-old boy sitting in the back seat, entertaining us. He can memorize dialogue, he can do impressions. But their brains are wired a little bit differently. ... They live in the world of autism, their own little world.

In Spencer’s world, he can run an engine on his computer. Yesterday he was on the MetroLink (in California) - every Thursday, he goes from Fullerton to the downtown Los Angeles station and back. But they have new railroad cars so he actually went up into the engine and got to meet the engineer. He goes to Disneyland and Disneyworld because he knows all the engineers and knows about the trains. I do ESPN Weekend for Disney and ESPN in Orlando and I told them I’d do it if they got me in the roundhouse where they keep all the trains. ... We went back there and they were remodeling a 1950 train and he knew all the parts and he was discussing it with the engineer. They were laying on the ground and he was telling the guy, “That goes there,” and so on.

He’s a special little kid.