When little Matthew Ancrum, the baby of the family, started to master the video game brickbreaker, his mom and siblings began to understand better how his mind worked. It helped them look past his silence and his difficulty communicating with others.
"He likes to play little games like old school games where he has to figure things out; that's where we learned he's not slow," Louis Nix III told me in an interview last year. "He learns a certain way and he's actually good at certain things."
Matthew is Nix's younger brother. He is now 7 and he is autistic.
Nix keeps an Autism Awareness ribbon as his regular Twitter avatar, which is what spurred me to initially ask about it. He and I talked in his early days with the Texans, after being drafted in the third round last year. Since then Nix's career has hit some obstacles, in part due to injuries. The nose tackle has also incurred the chiding of Texans coach Bill O'Brien on more than one occasion.
There are, of course, many facets to most people. Last week Nix showed one when he mentioned Matthew on Twitter as he noted Autism Awareness day. April is Autism Awareness Month, and the time seemed right to shed light on why this matters to him.
"My family, grandma, aunts, they always told my mom take him to the doctor, see what's wrong with him," Nix said. "I mean, we knew he didn't like to talk. After a while, when he was two years old, they started saying something might be wrong. ...But my mom, she's a great person. She didn't want to believe he was different or anything like that. She started telling people, 'He just don't want to talk. Let him be him.'"
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 68 children has Autism Spectrum Disorder. Matthew had trouble recognizing others. He knew his family, but struggled with interactions with strangers and acquaintances.
"He'll come in, he'll laugh, giggle, play around (with his mom and brothers)," Nix said. "But somebody that's not familiar with him. He won't respond to a beep. He'll just sit here. (We'd say) come on Matthew, wanting him to recognize. ... We just accepted that's how he is. He wasn't different to us he just communicated in a separate way."
Matthew was so young when Nix left his home in Jacksonville, Florida, for college at Notre Dame that the older brother kept up with his progress from afar. Over time, Matthew started warming up to others, too. He began to enjoy going to daycare, Nix said, and liked his daycare teacher’s company.
"I try to promote autism awareness," Nix said last year. "People think autistic people are different. I think they're the same, they just do things differently."
It's a very personal cause for Nix.