Justin Hack, 11, sits at home with the first-place trophy he won in the city-wide Grade 6 chess tournament. (DEREK RUTTAN, The London Free Press)
Asperger syndrome gives Justin Hack, 11, the focus to excel in the world of chess
By Dale Carruthers, The London Free Press
Monday, March 31, 2014 3:16:56 EDT PM
He might struggle at school but in the sport of kings, Justin Hack is the undisputed head of the class.
The Grade 6 pupil at Tweedsmuir public school has Asperger syndrome, a form of autism that means he has difficulty making social connections and sometimes has a restricted range of interests.
But everyone shines somewhere, and Justin has found his sweet spot in chess, a game where his challenges become his strengths and where his quest to bring order from chaos finds a welcome home.
Justin’s mother Kim says people often have difficulty understanding her son’s disorder because he’s smart and looks like an average boy.
“It’s a struggle. Our day-to-day life is a struggle,” she said.
But chess has made that struggle a little easier. Justin loves playing the game online, taking lessons from chess masters around the world.
In that world, his differences — he also has Tourette’s syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder — are part of what make him good at chess.
He has now become the talk of his school after making quick work of the competition at the 2014 Grade By Grade chess tournament in London.
After winning 15 straight games in about an hour, Justin won two playoff matches to bring home the championship trophy for his age group.
“It was easy,” he said of his tournament success.
Although he picked up the game only a year ago and some of his competitors have played for three years or more, the game is a good fit for him because it doesn’t require talking or physical contact, and it allows him to use his photographic memory and his analytical bent.
“I calculate each move,” he said.
Justin hopes to travel to Montreal on the Easter weekend for the Ontario chess championships.
His newfound passion means he’s spending a little less time on his other passion: Breeding crickets to feed to his pet frog.
“He wants to put them (crickets) in the fridge, but that’s where I draw the line,” Kim said.