A way with words: Young San Antonio Scrabble star with Autism competing in national tournament

Ricky Rodriguez, 12, has competed in Scrabble competitions across the country

Ricky Rodriguez, who was diagnosed with autism at an early age, says Scrabble helps him focus.

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio 12-year-old Ricky Rodriguez has always had a way with words and will use those skills at a national Scrabble competition in Washington, D.C..

Rodriguez was diagnosed with Autism when he was a toddler. His parents say that has not held him back from competing at some of the highest levels of Scrabble.

“In this Scrabble scene, he fits in really well with his abilities and his focus,” said Erin Rodriguez, Ricky’s mother. “His photographic memory, his word knowledge, attraction to words and language.”

Rodriguez will compete at the North American School Championship this weekend in the nation’s capital.

During KSAT’s visit to his Northwest Side home before his family left for D.C., Rodriguez kept it simple when asked about his strategy.

“I’m trying to get lots of points,” said Rodriguez. “I don’t have a favorite word. I just play whatever I can think of on my rack.”

His mother said Rodriguez entered his first big Scrabble tournament when he was eight years old and won third place a year later at a national youth competition in Philadelphia. He’s competed in events across the country and in Malaysia.

Over the past four years, he’s honed his skills by taking on and beating some adults and older kids at competitions.

“I don’t think he’s ever played anyone in Texas who’s younger than him. They’re always older people,” said Erin Rodriguez. “It’s just about the fun, some kids get really super competitive, but he is so cool when he loses or wins.”

His Scrabble journey started early in life after his Autism diagnosis. His parents immediately recognized he was good with words and calculations.

“We had a regular Scrabble set and he took that out and he would start playing games against himself,” said Erin Rodriguez.

His parents found a local Scrabble group where Ricky could take part in competitive matches.

“Mom just chose to sign me up for a Scrabble club,” said Ricky Rodriguez.

“The San Antonio Scrabble Club and from there, people that played with him were like, ‘wow, his word knowledge is really great,’” said Erin Rodriguez.

Ricky’s parents have made a point about telling him his diagnosis will not hold him back and in the end, playing Scrabble is all about fun, win or lose.

“We just try to focus on all the things he can do and learn. His strengths are definitely words. He’s good at math, science,” said Erin Rodriguez. “But also just the fun of traveling and I hope he has a good time in D.C., but I’m also not sitting here saying I hope he gets first place. I just want him to have a good time.”

About the Authors:

RJ Marquez is co-host of KSAT News Now and reports for Good Morning San Antonio. He's been at KSAT since 2010 and covered a variety of stories and events across the San Antonio area. He also covers the Spurs for on-air and digital platforms, including his Spurs newsletter. RJ has reported stories for KSAT Explains.

William Caldera has been at KSAT since 2003. He covers a wide range of stories including breaking news, weather, general assignments and sports.