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Aspiring with Asperger's: A Black Son's Journey into Professional Video Gaming

By Tiffany Bargeman


     Moms, if your 18-year-old Black son came to you and said, “I want to be a professional video gamer,” what would your reaction be? Close your eyes for 5 seconds, and imagine that scenario. If you put yourself in Aundrea Caldwell’s shoes, you might think, ‘WHAT THE...?! Boy bye!’ or something like that. But, there’s a twist here. What if your son also has Asperger’s Syndrome, a disorder on the autism spectrum, and has been playing video games as a way of coping with his challenges since he was 2 ½ years old? Then what would your reaction be? Aha...

    Well, I have to say, speaking with Aundrea made my face hurt from the grin I wore just about the entire time she talked about her son, Cameron, who is a first-year college student. Listening to her speak with such pride made me so happy. I wanted to cry at one point because I certainly can relate to this mom’s joy as she witnesses her son blossoming into a young man who already knows what he wants to do with his life. He has decided—with confidence—that he’s going to be a professional gamer. Cameron has the right person in his corner, too. Aundrea, who is originally from Dallas, TX, and also has two daughters, has been advocating for her son since the moment she realized there was something special about him.

     “I always knew something was different but couldn't put my finger on what it was,” she explained, as she recalled the moments she was perceiving this difference. His kindergarten teacher brought it to her attention that she believed he was demonstrating autistic behaviors, which helped confirm mom's concerns. When Aundrea shared her concerns with Cameron's other teachers as he got older, they didn't believe her and assumed he had behavior problems. It was not uncommon for her to find him off in a corner by himself on some days when she picked him up from school. Aundrea talked with me about some of the behaviors that Cameron exhibits that are due to Asperger's, including some social delays and heightened sensitivities that are common among young kids on the autism spectrum. Cameron doesn't like wearing new shoes, for example, and going outside creates a level of  anxiety for him that it wouldn’t create for other kids. “Interpreting social cues is difficult [for him],” she added.

     We shifted gears to discuss Aundrea’s concerns about her son getting older and becoming more independent. For now, she’s addressing the issue at hand, which is the fact that her son will soon be driving around in the community by himself. Cameron just got his learner’s permit, and yes, mom has had the tough conversations with him about possibly experiencing undue prejudice as a Black man in America. One of the scariest thoughts she has, like many other moms of Black sons, is about him encountering law enforcement while out driving alone. So she has told him to, “keep his hands on 10 and 2, and call me. Put me on speaker,” if he is pulled over by an officer. Aundrea took proactive measures to visit their local police department with Cameron in tow, to introduce him to the chief of police. (I don’t know about you, but I’ve wanted to do this for my own son, who doesn’t have Asperger's Syndrome but is simply Black. I can relate to the fear moms of Black sons have of what could happen to them in this racially charged American climate.) She explained to the chief that Cameron has Asperger’s and asked that he encourage his officers to have a level of patience when dealing with people like her son during traffic stops, as they may not process commands like the average driver.

     Aundrea's advocacy efforts are paying off, as she gets to watch Cameron come into his own, reaching milestones like his recent graduation from high school in Fremont, CA. She teared up when she told me that the school didn't acknowledge his successes, so she took it upon herself to treat her son to a trip to Europe in celebration of all he’d achieved. They visited Paris, Nice, Monaco, and London. He played a “Street Fighter II” video game in Amsterdam and was fascinated by the old game.

     Now, this proud mom has given us a glimpse inside their recent weekend trip to a video gaming competition called “The Genesis 5” in Oakland, CA. It was a weekend full of excitement, to say the least, for “Darkblade”, Cameron’s gamer tag, as well as for his mom and two younger sisters.

     You'll enjoy listening to this interview with Aundrea before the video game competition, as well as this interview with Cameron after the competition. He asked mom to get him a Mountain Dew before our interview so he could be pumped! Cameron told me from his own perspective what it’s like dealing with Asperger’s, and he shared his feelings about college and plans for professional gaming. He even offered some advice for parents of kids with autism. You may have to wipe a few tears of awe.

     It was nice to read the many encouraging responses to Aundrea's posts sharing their experience with this community of moms, shared here with her permission. Thousands of understanding moms, some of whom also have special needs Black sons, became an impromptu cheerleading team for Cameron. Aundrea didn't even know that Moms of Black Boys United, Inc. is almost 200,000 women strong and said she was overwhelmed by the back-to-back notifications on her phone as the support and encouragement kept rolling in. Aundrea said she often has felt isolated over the past 15 years, like she was the only Black woman raising children with autism. She's grateful for the outpouring of support from our online community of moms.

     The journey before and after Cameron’s diagnosis at 9 years old came with continued challenges, not only for him, but for her as well—in her interactions with his teachers throughout his elementary, middle school and high school years, as well as in her personal relationships with loved ones. She has had to make some hard decisions as she made adjustments in her parenting. She was determined to do what was best for her son and for her other children; one of her daughters also is on the autistic spectrum. Aundrea is writing a book titled, Wait! Did you say Autistic? A Mother’s Journey of Acceptance and Advocacy, about their autism journey, will will be released this Spring. She wants to educate others on the facts of the social disorder. She wants people to understand that all little Black boys do not have behavior problems and that there are ways to guide them to success. “They can thrive,” she exclaimed. “When you know in your heart that...God gave you this child, and there are no second chances, you have to do this thing right. I encourage moms to continue to advocate. I don’t care who you’ve gotta cuss out, and fuss at, remove out of your life; there are no other options. It’s non-negotiable.” Aundrea hopesto start a non-profit later this year that focuses on leveraging technology to support Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) children.

     We're so proud of Cameron Caldwell. We are also proud of Aundrea and the many other moms like her who advocate tirelessly for their Black sons. It’s all about them.

Please enjoy these photos!