Interests and passions can not only be an incredible journey for autistic individuals, but can also lead to fun, shared experiences with their families.
Long before he was diagnosed with autism, Aaron developed several deep interests, including a passion for game shows. From the kids’ game show, Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? to perennial favorites such as The Price Is Right and Jeopardy!, Aaron enjoyed watching all different kinds.
“I have loved game shows to some degree my entire life,” said Aaron. “Probably around like fourth or fifth grade, what solidified it for me was Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, which took over the whole world at the time. By the time I got to middle school, it was all I thought about basically for a while anyway.”
Aaron’s mom Nancy remembers him connecting with game shows when he was quite young, even in different languages. On a trip to France, Aaron watched game shows in French without speaking the language and recognized the familiar rhythm of the program. “What I saw as a parent in that instance was just a way for a very young kid to travel and to access the culture and find a way to connect to what we were doing that I never would’ve thought of,” Nancy said. “Here we were in a very unfamiliar place, and he was able to be okay being in that unfamiliar place because he could turn on the TV and see this French game show.”
A Passion Turns Into Action
Nancy remembers watching game show episodes with him in the early years and taking him to malls for special game show events. She also saw how Aaron really took opportunities to use his interest beyond being a spectator. Aaron attended a creative local day camp in the summer, and when he was a pre-teen, he approached them with an idea to do a camp-wide game show. They agreed. “He had to spend, I don’t know how long organizing it and to get people involved,” Nancy said. “I actually went when he produced the game show because I had to see it!”
The camp loved the show. Aaron returned as a counselor-in-training for several years and produced different game shows each time. “The one that resonated with most of the kids was one based on American Idol,” Aaron recalled. “But what I’m most proud of was one year I said, ‘You know what would be cool? I could do Match Game-Hollywood Squares Hour and let the kids play different celebrities.’ I had to explain what Match Game was over and over, and had to write a huge number of matching questions related to camp life and camp rituals. And I pulled it off in the end. The kids got it, and they came all dressed up, and it was hilarious!”
Nancy noticed how much Aaron was learning from creating events like these. This developed even further in other projects he undertook while volunteering with the local cable access channel. He made seven or eight game shows over the course of five years, including versions of Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?, Password, and The Amazing Race. Aaron took on multiple roles, including finding the contestants, writing the questions, directing, producing, and editing.
“He’s had an opportunity for skill building in different areas,” Nancy said. “The concept development, developing the questions, and in the case of the Amazing Race, finding the venues and getting permission to use them. He put an ad in the local paper. People responded and he interviewed them. There was reaching out to the press and writing a press release. He got two high school teachers to compete against two middle school teachers. There were quite a lot of discrete skills that went into this!”
Opportunities for Family Fun
But there can be so much more to gain from interests beyond skill building. There were also ways Aaron’s passion for game shows allowed the family to have wonderful experiences together. In addition to watching episodes of Jeopardy! together every night, they have attended live tapings of many game shows. Aaron and one of his parents went to one of Bob Barker’s final episodes hosting The Price is Right, and attended many other live game show events in different places. “There have been many, many shows he’s introduced me to that have been really great. And I’m grateful to have done it together,” Nancy said. “This is a fun thing that has led us to do things that honestly I would never have thought of to do.”
Today, Aaron thoroughly enjoys belonging to online communities that analyze and discuss different game shows. He would also love to be a contestant on a game show one day, especially Jeopardy! While Aaron has his doubts that it will happen, Nancy is optimistic. “He must be good at it,” Nancy reasoned, “Because when we watch together, he answers everything before I’ve read the question!”