Sports-seasonal Affective Disorder

While this is an autistic blog, I do recognize that there are many different types of neurological conditions, such as neurotypicality.  Neurotypicality, as you may know, affects 96% of the world’s population.  You probably have friends and relatives that daily live with neurotypicality.  One commonly associated disorder is Sports-seasonal Affective Disorder, or SSAD.

SSAD affects mostly males, with different symptom clusters broken down roughly by geography.  For instance, in the USA, SSAD symptoms peak in the “NFL Playoffs” but run throughout much of the late summer to early winter.  In other places, SSAD peaks at different times of the year, but we haven’t fully discovered the reasons for this.

During a SSAD symptom peak, a sufferer may find himself compelled to draw away from his family, particularly the opposite sex, and seek out other SSAD suffers, often at a large SSAD complex (“stadium”).  In some cases, SSAD sufferers self-medicate with alcohol.  Alcohol intake however is not based on a rational decision-making process, but instead a symptom of the disease.  For instance, one sufferer may self-medicate because “my team lost” while another self-medicates “in celebration of the victory.”  As can be seen, this is not logical!

SSAD sufferers often feel a compulsion to “not miss” a game, and may travel great distances at great expense in search of an elusive, temporary feeling.

In most cases, the symptoms are seasonal, but in severe cases the symptoms are present year-round, often manifesting in different time periods with different symptom clusters (“NFL-type” vs. “NBA-type”, for instance).

Also, a sense of perspective may be lost and others may be blamed for the patient’s mood swings.  For instance, one autistic brother of a SSAD sufferer reported that his brother “ranted for over a week about how a referee’s bad call destroyed ‘his’ team’s chances.”  Note that the SSAD sufferer did not actually own any team but still displayed a possessive attitude.

What can you do to help?  Sadly, there isn’t much we can do.  While autistics can also have SSAD, it seems most associated with neurotypicality and perhaps an excess of testosterone.  Most treatment options, except in extremely severe manifestations of SSAD, involve “waiting out” the season.  While it is tough to watch your loved one screaming incomprehensible words at a television, know that it is likely only a temporary episode and will soon pass.  In other cases, the affected may feel an urge to dress up and pretend to both be much younger (typically pretending to be in his early 20s) and more athletic than he is in real life.  In some cases, the person may even choose to change the color of his skin.  There are even internet sites where suffers compare notes on this type of disconnected-with-reality play.  While this manifestation is hard for outsiders to understand, it rarely is a symptom of more severe problems and can be left untreated for most individuals.

For family members unaffected, it’s best to seek respite care as needed to cope with your loved ones flare-ups.  In particular, many family members have found a “night out” on so-called “game” days can be a huge stress reliever.  Of course it’s important to remember that sometimes during the flare-ups, those affected can require help with basic life functioning and may need help with tasks such as food preparation and comfort during times when the binary nature of the syndrome cause downward mood swings (you’ll be keyed into such events such by your loved one using phrases such “the game was stolen” or “how could he miss that catch?”).

As autistics, we can help our family members by realizing that SSAD is not a choice.  We don’t yet know what causes it – it’s believed both genetics and social factors are involved, but we don’t believe it’s caused by bad parenting.  Most symptoms pass within hours, so it’s possible to manage a full life even in the presence of a SSAD suffers.  In fact, many SSAD sufferers have relatively normal employment histories and can even live relatively independently.  Some lucky SSAD sufferers find understanding mates and even successfully raise children (there is a risk of inheriting SSAD, but most doctors agree that the additional risk of a SSAD sufferer being born to a parent with SSAD is relatively small – SSAD children are often born to non-affected parents as well).

I hope this helps you understand this complex and puzzling condition.

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