This blog post is from Glen Finland on her experience at Washington Nationals Autism Awareness Day 2013 at Nationals Park! Glen is the author of Next Stop: An Autistic Son Grows Up, Penguin's 2012 Pick for National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
Working the Autism Speaks Community Outreach booth at the Washington Nationals/Phillies game this holiday weekend was a blast, even from where I stood inside the booth with my back to the action on the field. For the record, it was Nats over the Phillies, 6-1. In this house we always root for the home team, Our Nats. But for me, an autism mom, this was a win-win situation.
My 25-year old autistic son David, a Nationals usher and ticket-taker for the last five years, was among the group of young people being honored down on the field in a brief pre-game ceremony to help raise autism awareness. But up on the main concourse, working the info booth with me, was 23-year old Phil Martin, an utterly delightful member of the Seat Pleasant (MD) Volunteer Fire Company, who also happens to have Asperger’s. Dropping by the booth to chat was Dr. Anita Miller Sostek of Autism Speaks’ Scientific Review board. And a friendly musician named Dave Hyden stepped up to volunteer his rock band to perform at any autism fundraisers for free.
But then there were the young parents, their recently or soon to be diagnosed kids in their arms, each of them reluctantly approaching the booth with what looked like pain or fear in their eyes. Each of them needing encouragement to come a little closer to say what they couldn’t bear saying out loud: “My child has autism and I need some support.”
A gorgeous mother of a 3-year old boy refused to sign the AS petition to Congress for improving benefits to autism families because she said her husband is a well-known professional athlete and they have not decided to go public with their child’s diagnosis. Understood, but she seemed eager to talk about the lack of autism services in her city and angry about the struggles her son is already facing in his school. Another father had many upbeat comments and when I asked his 6-year old son to tell me his name, the boy stared at the ground and mumbled, “Matthew.” “He’s on the spectrum,” the dad explained. “I know,” I said. The dad looked surprised. “How can you tell?” I smiled at the boy. “I’m an autism mom.”
Few of us are experts but lots of us “get it.” And one thing this autism mom knows for certain is that all of our kids are growing up and the outside world needs to start making more room for them now, to help create meaningful jobs that will give these rising young adults lives they can one day call their own.
It’s often said that autism never takes a day off and, oh boy, that’s true. It will take many more autism awareness days at ballparks across the country to reach beyond the few families who can afford to take the time off for one day of fun at the park. Kudos to the Washington Nationals and all of Major League Baseball for their part in getting the ball rolling.
*For more information about MLB Autism Awareness and to check on the rest of the Club dates commemorating the initiative, please check out MLB’s site here.*