My nephew might be the best pinball player on the planet. I’m serious. To watch him hip check the machines, pound the button, and pull the plunger is like watching Muhammad Ali, Tom Brady, Willie Mays, Pele. He is a true artist at the deceptively complex game.

    He is also on the autism spectrum and, these games help him focus his loud and bright world in a fun and exciting way. It’s a constant battle to connect and communicate so, when I heard about the unlimited pinball at Pinball Outreach Project, a Portland based charity aimed at “Improving the lives of local kids through the rings, dings, and blinking lights of pinball,” I knew what I had to take him for a visit. Pinball for a cause. Sounds like a match made in heaven.

    But, more than that, since the organization caters to children whom are often terminally or chronically ill and immobile, the Pinball Outreach Project is not confined between the four walls of a building. When not hosting junior pinballers on its home turf in the Beaumont-Willshire neighborhood (4605 Northeast Fremont Street in Portland),it brings its pinball games to community, centers, schools, and even hospitals, allowing kids to play pinball where they otherwise may not have the chance. But, even better, POP opens its doors to numerous special events, including weekly pinball leagues, private parties, and summer camps.

    It turns out, POP provides autism therapy through these Pinball machines. Apparently, this program (which did a trial run in April of 2016) is a five-week program designed, through the focus, precision, and fun of pinball, to improve social skills for autistic kids. The program teaches patience (each kid has to wait their turn to play), how to use nice language (lots of congratulating each other), how to retain information and improve conversational skills (this is, in part, a result of being forced to wait to play) and etc. The program saw fabulous results and I hope it happens again soon.

    As for my nephew, on the day of our big pinball date, he impressed as always. His skill is unmatched. His pizzazz and flair is uncanny. He is a true genius at the game and, according to my brother, it provides one of his few respites and moments of relief from a life that is often loud and chaotic for my nephew.

    Thanks to the Pinball Outreach Project in Portland, me and whoever else, can play pinball and help kids at the same time. It’s a win-win and is just one more reason why living in Portland is so great.

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