Ups and downs of Asperger’s Syndrome for Colorado yo-yo champ Taylor Noyes
Asperger’s and Colorado’s yo-yo champ
Over the past few years, 23-year-old Taylor Noyes has flitted from shelter to shelter in the Boulder area. To learn more about Taylor’s whereabouts and nonprofit aspirations, see his website at www.foodshelteryoyo.com.
Taylor Noyes is an encyclopedia of unverified knowledge — especially for a 23-year-old.
Though he “didn’t have the patience to finish college,” Taylor has read the dictionary cover to cover three times. Few people have the desire and/or fastidiousness needed to complete one full reading. Unflinching concentration is one of few benefits to Asperger’s Syndrome, and when applied to chess, a Rubik’s Cube, or yo-yoing, the results are incredible.
Taylor’s personal record for solving a Rubik’s Cube is 10.2 seconds. He spends less time than that studying the cube, then his fingers move like a sped-up video, with his pinkies spinning the lower plane as thumbs and index fingers work the top.
“There are three main algorithms that I use — sets of 8 to 16 moves that switch specific pieces that I’ve memorized with my hands, so I don’t even need to think about it,” he said. “If the moves are memorized, your hands can move faster than your mind. It’s called look-ahead. You know what the cube will look like (at the end of the sequence), so you’re already planning the next steps. I’m working on doing it blindfolded, but I’ve got to practice.”
A driving need to practice is a permanent fixture in Taylor’s life. Asperger’s Syndrome is a pervasive developmental disorder that’s on the high-functioning side of the autism scale. The disorder affects his ability to identify emotional cues. This results in social anxiety, owing to his inability to read body language and other subtle contextual cues.
“I’m a very disorganized, non-linear thinker,” he said. In telling me about his past, Taylor rarely made eye contact and often departed from the narrative of school, his parents, his current status as the best “yo-yo artist” in Colorado, and his ongoing homelessness.
Excessive details make it easy to lose track of his story. With a seemingly detached monotone, he’ll retell intricate details of a door’s stained glass before revealing what building he was visiting, whom he was visiting therein, or how that person links to his narrative. As with the moves needed to solve a Rubik’s Cube, Taylor knows what components go into his life’s story, and catching me up to the present is simply a formality.
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When Taylor was 11 years old, his favorite game was Magic the Gathering. The game kept him focused, helped him interact with children his age and made him happy. When he got into trouble, his father took the game away. Taylor reclaimed the cards without permission, and when his parents caught him a second time, they threw his cards away.
Taylor distinctly remembers apologizing to his friends because he would no longer be able to play with them. He had always had trouble socializing, and he felt that he’d lost the only tool that leveled the playing field. This was three years after he was misdiagnosed with type II manic-depressive bipolar disorder.
“I’m still recovering from all of the medication they gave me,” Noyes said. When he was 14, one of his therapists had an autistic son and insisted they review his diagnosis. A clinic in Salt Lake City confirmed that he had Asperger’s Syndrome shortly thereafter.
Around that time, he saw a yo-yo demonstration that gave him direction.
“I thought, ‘I wanna do that,’” he said. “In the eighth grade, I learned a (yo-yo) trick called ‘Buddha’s Revenge’ because I was into Buddhism. My head was down and I was focused, but eventually I looked up and the entire student body was looking at me. Over the next few weeks, people started talking to me — good and bad, but there was lots of encouragement. Suddenly, we were talking about the thing that I knew the most about, which made it easier to keep talking. Yo-yoing helped me cope with social anxiety. You’re very aware of the moment, yet at the same time you’re so focused that it gives your mind a rest. Most importantly, it makes me happy.”
Last year he was disqualified from the state yo-yo championship owing to a paperwork kerfuffle.
“I was standing up for myself, and I wasn’t trying to be loud, but I must have been,” he said. “They said I was being disrespectful and wouldn’t let me compete.”
He expected that he would have won, but his title would have to wait.
“This year I was kind of cheating at the competition,” he said. “We got a list of tricks and started doing them one after another, with people getting eliminated along the way. Kids would come by and ask me to show them how to do something, and I would always show them. Then, eventually, they asked who was still left, and I was the only person to raise my hand. My teacher had to keep reminding me that I’d won, because I was focusing on some of the other styles that I didn’t win.”
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“Beginners start with a responsive yo-yo,” he said. “But mine has ball-bearings, so it’ll stay down for 90 seconds.”
A series of complicated-to-me steps are needed to make the yo-yo return, and in the meantime, he’ll weave intricate webs between his fingers, hop the yo-yo from string to string, and manipulate the string with practiced grace. Only he has any idea what’s coming next. The layman sees only successive narrow escapes from a tangled, knotty nightmare. Taylor wears out a new string every day and buys them by the thousand to keep expenses down.
For the past four years, Taylor has been homeless, living between shelters and the streets of Boulder. He’s slowly finding his footing, yet his end goal is not three square meals, four walls and a roof over his head — it’s helping people in distress find their voice through yo-yoing in the same way he’s found his.
“Nothing about me is false,” he says. I believe him. Taylor has nothing to hide. Homelessness, family abandonment and Asperger’s Syndrome are all discussed with a refreshing detachment. No question is too personal, just as no answer is of more or less interest to him than the one before it.
As he’s moving between topics, there are times I want him to expound on a certain subject, but say nothing for fear of breaking his concentration. Our conversation would bring us to France, Kaizen philosophy of conscious constant improvement, and how Tom Duncan introduced the yo-yo to America from the Philippines. Did you know that “yo-yo” means “come-come” in Filipino, and the toy was named for its ability to return on command? Now you do.
“I know I can be a street entertainer because I’m already doing that,” he said. “But I want to do something more. I wanted to figure out how to use my skill to help people. Yo-yoing distracts you from everything else that’s happening. It’s a visual and tactile coping mechanism that helps people deal with trauma. Even for the wisest and happiest cultures in the world, it can be hard to find something internally to be happy about. You need something on the outside to be happy about. There’s war, hunger and natural disaster, but if you can keep a kid distracted, he’ll be happy, and happy children makes adults happy, too.”
Taylor is eager to compete on a higher stage, taking on the country’s best yo-yo artists and, then, the world championships from there. He wants to learn magic, not to mention robot-like break-dancing so he can incorporate both into his yo-yoing routine. He also wants to read more philosophy and travel to Nepal and teach yo-yoing to victims of natural disaster. Sometime before or after that, he wants to learn to write with his toes.
Such is the nature of his self-described non-linear thinking. I have no doubt he could accomplish all of these tasks were he to tackle each individually. But each new idea pushes the previous ideas from his head before he’s had time to execute. Seeing projects through to completion is the only area of his life in which practice has not yet made perfect.
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