Beer, Autism, and Hope: When Autism’s ‘Narrow, Focused Interest’ Is a Gift, Not a Symptom

Autism's 'Narrow, Focused Interest' Is a Gift, Not a Symptom (via Babble)

Beer historian Lance Rice with just a part of his collection of vintage and modern beer cans.

Beer historian Lance Rice doesn’t actually drink much beer, and he isn’t particularly partial to one brand or another.

“I’m not really biased when it comes to beer,” he told me with a chuckle during a recent phone interview. “Although I don’t really drink non-alcoholic beer or light beer very much. I like darker beers.”

“There isn’t one brand I like the most,” he added diplomatically. That’s just as well, considering he’s about to embark on a 1,500 mile road trip to tour Midwestern breweries.

Lance’s interest in beer is really the history of it: specifically, the history of American breweries. He started collecting beer cans at age 16.

“It was on Monday, July 8, 1974,” the 55-year-old Ohio native recalls. Lance has an astonishing memory: he remembers not just the exact dates that things happen, but even what day of the week it was.

This unique capacity to remember details is related to exactly why this road trip will be challenging: Lance is autistic. Change in his everyday routine can be difficult, and until recently, even leaving his home to be out and about in his community was stressful. The process of starting this project, though, has helped him become more comfortable interacting with other people.

The Kickstarter fundraiser for Lance’ s Brewery Tour has brought Lance more attention than he’s used to, but he’s excited to share his knowledge, and he’s focused on his goal of writing his book.

“It hasn’t been too stressful, no,” he told me. “Writing this book has been a dream of mine for eight years. It’s finally going to become a reality. I’m very proud of that.”

Of course, it’s not just about the beer history. Lance does enjoy drinking dark, full-bodied beer (although never more than two at a time), and has a refined palate. After tasting a beer, Lance can identify how it was brewed, the hops used, and the flavor profile. During his brewery tours, he’ll be tasting beers, gathering more facts, and talking to brewery employees about American beer history.

“I’m just looking forward to visiting the breweries, and getting all the information to write my book.”

I asked Lance what he thought people could learn from his book, and from watching the documentary about his brewery tour.

“They’re going to learn a lot about autism–what autism is–and they’re going to learn about brewing history. A lot that they never knew before.”

I shared with Lance that two of my four children are autistic. One of the defining characteristics involved in their diagnoses was, in fact, the tendency to have “a narrow, focused interest.” In retrospect, one of the reasons they were diagnosed as late as they were is that we never thought their narrow, focused interests were a sign of anything other than awesomeness. My 12-year-old daughter loves all things Chinese; she’s teaching herself how to speak Mandarin and how to write in Chinese calligraphy. My 7-year-old son is obsessed with LEGOs and LEGO video games; he designs new games and storylines on paper, just waiting for the day he can work at Traveller’s Tales Games.

Before he started collecting beer cans and beer facts, Lance’s interest was science. “I had an interest in science,” he said. “I got my third microscope for Christmas in 1972 when I was 14. I was interested in biology and microbiology.”

We talked about how sometimes, kids with autism are encouraged to branch out and not just have one interest. I asked him if he had any advice for my kids on that topic. He replied, “it’s okay to have just one interest if you want to. It doesn’t hurt to have other interests, but if you have just one interest that’s fine too.”

I may be quoting Lance in my son’s next IEP meeting.

I also spoke with Lance’s nephew, Aaron Rice, who is helping to make the tour happen for Lance.

“I’m providing a very minimal service, in the big scheme of things,” Aaron told me. “I can drive. I’m comfortable making phone calls to strangers.”

Aaron explained that while Lance obviously knows he’s being filmed, the process has been designed around Lance’s needs. “The way we are filming it, technologically, is so unobtrusive,” Aaron said. Filming is done from a distance, and noiseless, wireless remotes are used to move cameras, in order to minimize any stress for Aaron.

“I really want people to see how he is naturally, when he’s comfortable,” said Aaron. “That he independently and creatively accomplishes things on his own.”

Check out this video about Lance’s Brewery Tour.

To learn more about Lance’s Brewery Tour, or to chip in to the Kickstarter, please visit  LancesBreweryTour.com.

Read more from Joslyn on Babble and at her blog, stark. raving. mad. mommy. You can also follow Joslyn on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

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