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Torie Peterson reflects on her brother's unique perspective on the game

by TORIE PETERSON @ToriePeterson /

I know why I love hockey.

It's a pretty straightforward, simple explanation.

It's fast. It's fun. It's highly entertaining.

The list of reasons goes on but it isn't hard for me to wax poetic about the sport that has been an indelible part of my life.

But if you asked why my brother enjoys it, I couldn't tell you.

I can speculate, knowing his other interests and his personality, but he isn't able to tell me exactly what it is about hockey that he likes.

Jari - yes, named after Jari Kurri - has autism.

Austim Canada describes it as "a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts brain development, causing most individuals to experience communication problems, difficulty with social interactions and a tendency to repeat specific patterns of behavior."

In short, he experiences the world in a completely different manner than most of us.

He has heightened sensory sensitivity, making sounds, sights, tastes, and touch more vibrant - more extreme - than most people could imagine.

And while he is verbal, his communication skills are limited and for the most part, he isn't able to communicate his needs or wants, likes or dislikes, with his family and friends.

Understanding how he operates within the world has taken many years of observation from my parents, educators and medical professionals. We've been blessed to have an incredible network of support which has helped Jari navigate his surroundings and learn how to better communicate with those around him.

So, we know his likes and have a base understanding of how he copes with situations and are able structure his day-to-day life in the best possible fashion.

He loves movies, is an avid bowler and bocchi player with Special Olympics, is an avid reader, volunteers at the Humane Society, and adores music.

Jari also enjoys hockey.

Why he likes hockey, I'm not sure, but I do know that he views the game from a different lens than I do.

First of all, when at live games, he has a tendency to keep glancing back at the score clock. He isn't impatiently awaiting the end of the game - he's monitoring the numbers. The repetition of the clock, the score changing, penalties being listed - they all interest him.

In-game components are also heightened for him.

He has attended Flames and Hitmen games and when the horn goes off, he often cups his ears. At first, I was concerned the sound was aggravating him but after a few times, I noticed he was smiling. Evidently the vibrations from the horn were a source of joy for him and he was amplifying it for himself.

Jari also loves when the flames go off for a Calgary goal, creating a high-sensory moment for him.

The action, especially hits, seems to draw in his interest, as well. When players collide along the glass, the sound and vibrations add to the experience for him.

At home, Jari has a specific routine for Flames games.

My parents have worked with him to express his thoughts before games, helping expand on his knowledge and giving them a bit more insight into his mindset.

Before every game, my mom brings out a printed roster and asks Jari which players he thinks will play well that evening.

After perusing the list, he makes two selections - we've discovered he develops favourites season over season, with this year's favourites being Rasmus Andersson and Andrew Mangiapane. Both of my parents then offer up their picks, making it a routine event for the family and giving him a sense of routine around games.

My brother thrives on routine, as many people on the autism spectrum do, and having that as an avenue for structure aids in his day-to-day life.

Understanding that Jari's experience with hockey is drastically different than mine has opened our family's eyes to many ways people take in the game.

Of course I knew that everyone had their own reasons for liking the sport but viewing from Jari's perspective has made me realize there are so many more ways that people can enjoy it.

I'm hopeful more and more individuals can see the game in their own way and appreciate the sport. We can continue to grow the game if we able to better understand the multitude of ways people view hockey and open doors for them to become involved in a sport that has positively impacted so many.

After all, hockey is for everyone. 

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