The sights and sounds of a Major League Baseball game are something most of us have come to expect as part of the over-all ball park experience. But for children with disabilities, especially those living with autism and intellectual disabilities, all that can be too much to handle.
Now Major League Baseball teams are trying to make sure those youngsters and their families can come out and enjoy a game.
In a couple of weeks the Chicago White Sox will host an excited group at U.S. Cellular Field for what they hope will be an enjoyable occasion. And the team is gearing up to make them feel right at home. I write about this because this noble effort by the Chicago Franchise is something we have come to expect from the folks in the windy city. Back in 2002 EP started the concept of “Disability Awareness Night” in an attempt to shine a light on people with disabilities and the physicians, allied health care professionals, teachers, caregivers and families involved in their care and development. We began with the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox but a year later that expanded to all 30 Major League Teams. It included recognizing people with special needs who overcame the challenges they face to achieve things that inspire us and provide incentive for those facing similar challenges. It extended to our US Military and the thousands of families living on bases around the world caring for loved ones with disabilities including those returning from theatre with the obvious and hidden scars of war. DAN Nights became a huge success and expanded beyond Major League Baseball to the NBA and the NFL as well as some NCAA Football Games.
And now the White Sox have taken the concept to a new level working with Autism Speaks.
Things will definitely be a bit different at US Cellular Field during a special game on what’s being called “Autism Awareness Day.” On Sunday, June 12 the White Sox will have sections reserved just for autistic youngsters and their loved ones. For example, on that day the music and the PA system won’t be as loud in that area as they would normally would be. “Sometimes that can be too much for our kids. They are also going to have a quiet room available to help with those kids who might become too over-stimulated – a lot of our kids have hypersensitivity to sensory inputs – so it’s important that they make those modifications,” says Colleen Shinn of Autism Speaks.
Perhaps the biggest change will be what happens after the Sox score a homerun and after they win the game.
“We are going to substitute our fireworks, which could be alarming to some with our video boards. With the new video boards that we have, we are going to be able to create a situation where people can see the fireworks so that they don’t have to be startled or concerned about the sounds of fireworks going off,” says Brooks Boyer, senior vice president of the Chicago White Sox.
The sox organization will be displaying special messages about autism awareness on the big screens through-out the contest and ballpark employees will be handing out educational information. Autism specialists will also be on hand to answer questions and to assist the families on that day.
As was the case with the DAN Concept launched by EP, Brooks Boyer reminded everyone that “this may be the only opportunity for some families to get to a major league ballpark and we want to make sure that on this day the White Sox can provide something that is great and memorable and not have a situation where they get to come out to the ballpark and it was a bad experience. We can’t control what happens between the lines like when there is a ground ball or an accidental flying bat, but we certainly can control the experience that happens around it,” Boyer says.
That’s all that matters to families looking to place a smile on the face of their loved ones. “It’s a nice opportunity for them to spend the day dong what other families would do,” says Shinn.
That autism awareness game is Sunday, June 12 at U.S. Cellular Field. The Sox will be taking on the Kansas City Royals at 1:10 p.m. They are hoping that at least 400 fans come out for the special seating. They will be waiting for you. We at EP hope they get more and that other Major League Teams do the same thing around the League. Here’s to the White Sox and Autism Speaks!
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Exceptional Parent Magazine