Chess was not always a part of my life. It wasn’t until my son, Jackie, entered into fourth grade that I was introduced to the game. Of course, now I know that Chess is much more than a game. It’s a battle, a dance and a savior. For my son, the savior aspect was apparent from the beginning. Jackie was diagnosed with autism in the second grade. He felt different and unaccepted by typical kids. I don’t know if this was true or if it was an exaggeration. What I do know is that chess was the beginning of “fitting in” for him. Chess was a place where he could be in his head, yet still be with a group of peers doing the exact same activity. This benefit is true for many people diagnosed and undiagnosed on the autism spectrum.
Chess is a sport that can be picked up and taken. It involves team play as well as individual accomplishment and can be played virtually anywhere and with anyone. There isn’t a lot of equipment, and the basics are fairly easy to understand, yet it’s deep and ever changing, never the same game twice. There is football and basketball and soccer, all teaching team work and strategy. But for kids who can’t be physical or for those in places where much of the school sporting programs are nonexistent, here lies a great resource. Chess. Being a part of a winning team, loosing gracefully, contributing fully and constantly striving for improvement, these are the lessons my child is learning. What could be better?
But it’s not only about autism or kids who have other neurological differences. There has been a plethora of research and documentation, studying the effects of chess playing in children. Chess and Aptitudes by Albert Frank, Chess and Cognitive Development by Johan Christiaen, The Development of Reasoning and Memory Through Chess by Robert Ferguson and the list goes on. Much of this work has shown that chess utilizes all of the cognitive abilities of a child. It encompasses the ability of critical thinking, planning and improves aptitude.
When I was in elementary school some thirty years ago, chess was a foreign word to me. I am learning now, through my son, though at this point, I don’t stand a chance even if I play white. Jackie toys with me on the board, picking off all of my pieces before giving me the deadly kiss. But chess has been slow to grow and there are still many areas within the United States that are left out of the scene. Tournaments pocket up in certain areas and are left out of others and what I can say with gratitude is, thankfully, my son had the opportunity to learn chess and become a part of a world where he feels at home.
Pick up a board, walk to the park, and teach a child to play. Make it a family thing, form a chess club in your school or even at your house. I can’t tell you how much fun it is to watch a group of kids, sitting around a chess board, talking strategy, challenging each other, teaching each other, forming bonds over something cerebral. They share in the excitement of winning, and the perplexity of losing. Chess led to Science Olympiad, Tech Club and a better understanding of math for Jackie. Everyone’s story will be different. But there will be a story and it will include all of the wonderful benefits of a battle, a dance and a savior that is chess.
About the Author
Diane Mayer Christiansen, children’s author and autism advocate, lives in Glenview IL, a northern suburb of Chicago. Her son, Jackie, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of nine, has been the inspiration for her writing and her passion for chess. Though chess was readily available within the school system for several years, once Jackie entered middle school, it was no longer accessible. They spend much of their time looking for chess tournaments to keep Jackie challenged. With this in mind, Christiansen began a chess team within her home, helping other middle school age children develop their skills and work toward tournament play. She is working to help create more tournament opportunities within her surrounding communities.
Learn more about Diane and her organization, RedDAY
Associated autism, parenting and chess links
- Chess helps teen with autism excel.
- Does chess make a child smarter?
- Chess and Asperger’s Syndrome: A personal Story.