Keep Your Eye on the Ball | Organization for Autism Research


My father died almost 40 years ago. Nonetheless, hardly a day goes by without something Dad taught me coming into play. Sometimes it’s a direct memory. Other times it’s a turn of phrase, a joke, or a pun. He loved the English language, the spoken word, and the gift of conversation. What would he be saying to me in this time of global health concern and the uncertainty caused by COVID-19? I hear his distinctive, news broadcaster’s voice saying, “Keep your eye on the ball!”

When I was a young boy who loved baseball, Dad drilled me on this fundamental from the first day he tossed a ball in my direction to teach me how to hit and many more times as he helped me hone my skill.

Later in domains other than sports, Dad would offer the same counsel to suggest I avoid the noise and distractions of the moment, focus on the task at hand, and think things through. Perhaps the best example was when I returned home after my first overseas tour in the Marine Corps. I needed a car and had my heart set on a new Datsun 240Z. What bachelor lieutenant wouldn’t want a hot set of wheels? 

“Keep your eye on the ball, Mike,” Dad said. “The purpose of a car is to get you from point A to point B.”

Dad’s counsel, his connection to a Boston-area VW dealer, and the cost differential between my shiny dream car and what I could afford led to my becoming the proud owner of a brand, new VW Super Beetle! Full disclosure, I did “splurge” to upgrade the speakers for the AM/FM stereo radio.

What’s all this nostalgia have to do with COVID-19?  We’re all in uncharted waters on many levels. We are faced with a frightening health pandemic, something of unprecedented scale in our lifetime, coupled with a concurrent economic crisis. Schools and businesses are closed. March Madness, professional sports, and milestone high school and college graduations across the United States are cancelled. In the face of all this, we’re being inundated with information and input from national leaders, health officials, talking heads, and all the “experts” on whatever social media one uses. There’s a lot to process.

As much as some aspects of life have changed dramatically, many things, including OAR’s mission, continue. Despite staff having moved to remote work like so many, OAR remains fully operational. Our three main application programs—graduate research grants, the Applied Research Competition, and the OAR Scholarship Program—are on schedule. We’re still delivering resources upon request, and our webinar, Seminar in Crisis Safety for the ASD Population, presented by Scott Fowler, will continue as scheduled on April 9.

We’re also responding to COVID-19. Our research and programs staff jumped into action and created a new COVID-19 Updates & Resources page on our website that provides a listing of resources from various reliable sources. I especially recommend the featured ASD toolkit,Supporting Individuals with Autism through Uncertain Times”, developed by OAR Scientific Council member, Kara Hume, Ph.D., and her colleagues at the Frank Porter Graham Institute at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

As we struggle with the uncertainty of the day, stay positive. Identify reliable sources of information. Focus on those closest to you and yourself. Adjust life, but don’t stop living; and don’t stop looking out for others, be they your neighbors, your co-workers, or the general public.

Most important, be smart. Be safe, and as Dad would urge, “Keep your eye on the ball.”

Mike Maloney is OAR’s executive director, a position he has held since OAR was launched in 2001, a Marine Corps veteran of 23 years, and the proud grandfather of Maxon, Selah, and Cameron Maloney.

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