One of my geeky side personas is that of the guy who predicts what players will be drafted by what teams during the NFL Draft. While not something I've readily admitted to friends and family, it's something I do each April for fun only... I think.
I'm also pretty good. Each year, I compare my mock draft to the mock drafts of at least 20 other major publications or NFL beat writers. I've never scored below the top 20 percent, and I've emerged the winner (with the most accurate first round selections) in three of those 20-odd years. Run that through the filter of going up against people who do this for a living and my record looks even better.
But here's the catch. Outside of every Packers game (I married a woman from Green Bay, and they have a pre-nup you have to sign), I really don't watch much pro football. Save for the final quarter of the championship game, I never watch college football either. I never watch the scouting combine, and I've never read a player prospectus -- frankly, while I can talk a good game, football is not at the top of my list of favorite sports.
So how do I then get good scores?
By being a tremendous cynic, that's how.
When you're diagnosed on the autism spectrum you hear that the perfect job for you is IT wizard, data entry, financial analysis or music. But to reiterate what I've been screaming for over a decade, our natural profession is anthropologist. Dropped into this strange culture, with all these funny rituals. We still have the choice to assimilate or not assimilate, but it really does help our capacity for vocational and relationship success when we take the time to study neurotypicals in, admittedly, a very geeky, Star Trek kind of way.
My grandmother was a bit of a card shark in her day, and because of her I was forced became a student of non-verbal communication. When my mother went back to school to finish her degree after my father died, we moved in with my grandparents for almost three years. Well, after picking me up from pre-school, my grandmother and I played cards for pretty much every afternoon during that time. If I didn't pay attention to what her shoulders were telling me about the cards in her hand, I'd lose my allowance. If I couldn't control myself because I'd been dealt a great hand, I'd lose my allowance. It was crazy dumb luck that an undiagnosed kid with Asperger's would get such a valuable education.
Knowing somewhere that I didn't have it in me to read people the same way others read their peers, I moved on from the body language of poker, to studying tones of voice. And later, I studied what came across in people's writing. Should the CIA come knocking on my door to recruit me because I have magical powers? No (barf). But you get something akin to insight. Neurotypicals (i.e. non-autistic people) really don't lie to others anywhere near the degree that frustrated spectrumites often think they do. But what I discovered early on was that they often lie to themselves -- they are humanely insecure in ways we are not collectively aware of -- and that there are ways to identify this.
Though it probably requires a one million word thesis (rather than a 1,000 word column) to explain how this works, one can discern between that which they know (or truly believe) to be true, and that which they want to be true in the text they produce, or the tone of their voice.
These tricks are like an autism spectrum lie detector. They're not foolproof. I repeat: I'm no "Rainman," or savant -- I'm not even that smart. But the time I spent learning and employing these abilities was rewarded.
So in addition to more noble or deeper pursuits, I read the previews and mock drafts of all those football beat writers. Once a year I fish inside their writing for what is sound confidence vs. what is literary "filler."
With the on-air professionals on TV, I listen for affectations in their voice, and for where they are filling space with banter that couldn't be less rooted in their belief systems. I watch their faces, their shoulders, their hands.
And then based on that info, I make my picks. I emulate their assurances, and avoid their mistakes.
But why? Why am I interested in this?
My frequent readers know that I favor autistics engaging in infinitely more competitive athletics than they've historically been exposed to. Thanks to caregivers terrified of having to teach us how to both lose and win with grace, generations of spectrumites haven't just grown up lacking confidence, many resent confidence as a concept. And yet I also harbor deep suspicions about a few pro athletes and coaches being on the spectrum.
But our interest in the NFL draft is separate.
My calls to play sports revolve around engaging in exercise that, in addition to building confidence, also increases our cognitive functioning and/or emotional regulation. When we engage in mock drafts, we are instead competing with other mock draft authors; most of whom are trying to study people; usually the general managers of teams, while I try to study them.
I am passionately looking for their unconscious or conscious lies in an arena, the NFL, that I find is itself a lie detector; a litmus test for how people treat one another in this country. We say how horrible it is that so many NFL players suffer concussions, get brain disease as a result, or later commit suicide. But despite these horrific revelations of the past 5-10 years, the game's revenue has not decreased, it has increased. And players who are increasingly aware of the risks, keep playing.
Do I not hypocritically contribute by finding the draft process to be so fascinating? Do I not therein contribute to the problem?
My interest is in smugly locking brains with the pros, to smugly show them I can do their job just as easily as them (which somewhere, thank God, I know is not true). But it is also rooted in Woody Guthrie-esque labor concerns. These are human beings being scrutinized; children even, who in order to get to this place where they risk getting screwed like never before, have made untold sacrifices -- mostly in social development -- in order to hone their gifts to do the mind-bogglingly things they can do, while we self-anointed mortals watch.
When we play sports, we fantasize about being the players. When we do mock drafts, it's the opposite. In an air of superiority, we instead pinch the skin, and check the teeth of NFL prospects. We get it then: They are not so enviable, and we are not so superior.
Michael John Carley is the Founder of GRASP, a School Consultant, and the author of "Asperger's From the Inside-Out" (Penguin/Perigee 2008), "Unemployed on the Autism Spectrum," (Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2016), "'Why Am I Afraid of Sex?' Building Sexual Confidence in the Autism Spectrum... and Beyond!" (late 2016), and "The Last Memoir of Asperger's Syndrome" (unsigned). In 2000, he and one of his two sons were diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. Re-evaluated in 2014, he was diagnosed with ASD. More information can be found at www.michaeljohncarley.com.