A ten-year-old boy with autism has taken the Rubik’s Cube to the max in Cinderella-like fashion by ranking in the world’s top 100 players. Max Park began as a spectator at a Rubik’s Cube tournament in Los Angeles and wound up winning a gold medal.
“We thought, hey, let’s bring him there. It’s a good experience,” said his father, Schwan Park. He and his wife Miki thought they were all going to be in the audience. Instead, they watched their son beat college-aged kids in his second ever competitive event. “As parents we were shocked and never imagined that our son would ever achieve such heights.”
Max completed a V-Cube 6, better known as a 6×6 cube, with an average time of 3:05.50, giving him a first place finish for that category. The timing made him 89th in the world overall.
Max is a fifth-grader with the verbal skills of a 5- or 6-year-old but the math skills of an 11- or 12-year-old. “Max’s biggest challenge is appropriate social behavior with others and in public,” says Schwan. He and his wife found it challenging “to teach him how to simply talk or communicate his thoughts.”
Max was two years old when he was diagnosed with autism.
“The realization came when I was looking for some books on child development — looking for clues about Max’s unusual behaviors — at the Temecula Barnes & Noble,” Park recalls. “My heart started to pound as I read the list of symptoms of autism one by one, realizing how accurate each symptom described Max so perfectly.”
Schwan and Miki will never forget the day they realized their son had autism. “We cried in each other’s arms almost as if we just lost our child to a car accident or pool drowning. It did feel like we lost our child that day.”
When Max was eight years old, his father bought him a Rubik’s Cube at the suggestion of doctors, who recommended it for therapy. “We thought he might be interested in something geometric and finite,” remembers Park. “Initially, the reason to do it was to work with his motor skills.”
It took only a few days for little Max to solve all variations of the cube. When he saw YouTube videos of speed cubing, he was hooked on competitive play, and focused on lowering his times.
In his first ever competition, a small, local 3×3 cube event held in August 2012, he placed 23rd out of 45.
Schwan thinks that autism is part of the reason for Max’s success: “Interestingly, it is this lack of social awareness that allows him to be completely comfortable performing in front of large crowds or competing in crowds. He just doesn’t care too much of what others think of him aside from being happy to perform for the people.”
Max practices daily for at least an hour as he readies himself for the World Championship in Las Vegas on July 26-28, 2013. But he also finds time to play the piano and train for a 5k race.
Schwan credits autism-related websites for helping him and his wife understand how best to raise Max. “It was finding other families with autism and their stories on the Internet that helped us find some hope. In a way, I am hoping that his story may give some newly diagnosed family hope in an otherwise despondent time.”
Watch the amazing Max in action at the Los Angeles Nisei Week competition on August 18, 2012:
According to the official results, Max finished 23rd out of 45, not 24th as indicated in the video.
Here he solves a 3×3 cube in 16.5 seconds: