America’s Favorite Past-Time
Autism and baseball are a good fit for a number of reasons, starting with the slower paced team atmosphere, the plethora of numbers and statistics, and the open air setting.
Baseball has been known as America’s favorite past-time for decades. As one of the most popular sports in the nation, there’s nothing quite like the experience of catching a game at your local stadium. The energy is infectious as the crowd roars, refreshments are passed down the aisle, and the next batter steps up to the plate.
The game of baseball appeals to a large population of Americans, including those who are on the autism spectrum. It is traditionally played outdoors in open stadiums and involves tracking stats of each player and team. This open environment and analysis of numbers is often what attracts people who have autism to the game.
As more individuals who are on the autism spectrum become interested in baseball, major breakthroughs are being made to merge the two and create a positive environment that everyone involved can enjoy.
A Change in the Game
In April of 2018, the first baseball player with autism was signed to a professional team, the Kansas City Royals. His name is Tarik El-Abour and he is the first minor league player known to be on the autism spectrum.
El-Abour’s passion for baseball began when he was a kid growing up in San Marino, California and followed him all throughout college where he played at Pasadena City College, Concordia University, Pacifica College and Bristol University.
After college he ended up playing for the Sullivan Explorers in New York, part of the independent Empire League. El-Abour’s career progressed in 2016 when he won Rookie of the Year after hitting .323 in 122 plate appearances and even more so in 2017 when he batted .240 and won a championship with the Plattsburgh Red Birds.
Signing with the Royals was a huge stepping stone for El-Abour and a big win for autism awareness.
The minor league player is serving as a source of inspiration for other individuals who are on the spectrum and have a dream they want to achieve. People who have autism often face daily challenges that they have to overcome and El-Abour is a great example of how resilience pays off.
His advice to young fans with autism who have big dreams is simple yet powerful:
“If you feel like you could do something with it, no matter what anyone says, and if you love it, keep working. There’ll be that one yes.”
Benefits of Baseball for People With Autism
Athletes like El-Abour are inspiring people with autism to get involved in sports that excite them. Baseball is a great activity for individuals on the spectrum and the activity provides a number of benefits.
Participating in a team sport such as baseball can be challenging for individuals with autism, but it can be extremely rewarding and teach important life lessons.
Baseball Encourages Communication
Baseball allows people who are on the spectrum to hone their communication skills and connect with others on a deeper level.
Socialization can be tricky, but baseball is a game that allows for valuable communication between teammates due to its steady pace and fairly calm atmosphere compared to many other sports.
There’s plenty of time at practice and in the dugout during games to share with other team members and begin to build relationships. Feeling like a part of the team and community can boost confidence and ensure a sense of well-being.
If an entire baseball game seems daunting, a game of catch in the backyard is a great way to connect with your loved one while getting outside and enjoying a fun activity together.
Promotes Responsibility and Self-Awareness
When playing on a team, it is crucial for each player to take responsibility for themselves and fully understand the specific role they have committed to.
Every player relies on the entire team to carry out their duties and tasks during a game in order to be successful and play their best. Developing responsibility and self-awareness is an important skill for people who have autism (and everyone) and as they begin to do so they will feel empowered and capable to face new challenges.
It’s a Healthy, Accessible Hobby
There’s a reason baseball is such a popular sport among individuals who are on the spectrum.
The game is easy to follow and involves analytical data and tracking of stats, which many people with autism find exciting to keep up with. It’s also easy to follow certain players and feel connected to them, just as many people with autism look up to El-Abour and find him inspirational and fun to follow.
Baseball is also a very accessible game with leagues all over the nation that are open to anyone.
If joining a league doesn’t sound appealing, then getting involved can be as simple as starting a neighborhood game in your backyard or just throwing the ball around with a few friends.
The game can easily be turned into a hobby that allows for physical fitness, human connection and time spent outdoors.
Baseball Teaches Resilience
Playing on a team can be challenging for people with autism. There may be times when they aren’t sure how to communicate or relate to the other players and this can cause discomfort and frustration.
However, learning to work through these feelings can result in growth and resilience.
Kerry Magro, an award-winning professional speaker and best-selling author with autism, shares his experience playing on a Little League team and discusses the difficulties he overcame. Magro said:
“One of the things I can say about my Little League experience is that it helped me understand the word ‘adversity’ for the first time. Because of my struggles making contact with the ball, there were often times I didn’t feel like I was part of the team.”
While Magro could have easily given up and quit the team, he pushed through and ended up discovering a passion for fielding. His resilience paid off and he learned the importance of sticking with challenges and overcoming obstacles.
“While my Little League experience wasn’t exactly what you would expect, the memories and lessons that it taught me helped shape me into the person I am today, and for that I am grateful.”
Just like Magro, many people with autism must face obstacles and learn to develop resilience. Baseball is a great activity to facilitate this process and teach people on the spectrum just how capable they are of accomplishing whatever they set their mind to while shaping them into strong, self-reliant people.
A Leading Example in Baseball
The landscape of baseball is beginning to change, first with El-Abour signing to the Twins, and now stadiums are becoming Certified Autism Centers (CAC) so that they can better serve their guests who have autism.
The Fort Myers Miracle, a Class A Advanced team for the Minnesota Twins, is one of the first to take the innovative leap and become a CAC. The entire staff at the stadium recently underwent training in autism awareness and sensitivity and they are beginning to promote an environment that is family-friendly and appropriate for those who are on the spectrum.
Baseball stadiums can be loud, overwhelming and lead to sensory overload for individuals with autism. The Fort Myers Miracle have taken it upon themselves to change this so that everyone can have a wonderful time enjoying their games.
The stadium is a large space where a lot of activity is constantly happening. During spring training, the Minnesota Twins train there and Miracle games typically happen several days a week during the season. The staff knew they had to be forward thinking and take steps to make the stadium suitable for families with children who have autism and adults on the spectrum in order to serve this growing population.
The CAC certification involved all staff completing autism sensitivity and awareness training and an onsite review conducted by IBCCES. Changes have been made to ensure that the stadium is an accommodating setting for those on the spectrum. Food trucks and concession stands have updated their menus to satisfy dietary needs and restrictions, such as gluten free options. Several quiet spaces have been set up throughout the stadium and a large grassy play area has been emphasized for children to enjoy the game and potentially catch a homer.
Overall, the CAC training has helped the staff gain knowledge about autism and a deeper understanding of how to serve those who are on the spectrum. As a result, the stadium has become a fun, family atmosphere that is a safe place to catch a game.
CAC Training Encourages Individuals With Autism to Get Involved
Everyone should be able to experience the game of baseball and the fun memories that go along with it, whether that means actually playing the game or becoming an avid spectator.
With certifications like the IBCCES CAC designation, stadiums are now able to become more welcoming so that individuals on the spectrum can enjoy the sport and become inspired to participate in their communities and get involved with their local teams.
The breakthroughs happening in the baseball industry are encouraging when it comes to autism awareness and sensitivity. Players such as El-Abour, are acting as role models for others who are on the spectrum and encouraging involvement in the sport.
Teams like the Fort Myers Miracle are standing up and doing what is right so that they can accommodate the growing population of adults and children who have autism and other sensory sensitivities.
“It’s important to me for the Miracle to have a strong presence in the community and make sure that our games are a comfortable, welcoming setting. We want Hammond Stadium to be inclusive for everyone. We are excited to go through this process with Myron and his team so that we can ensure that we are doing everything we can to welcome fans with special needs and provide family friendly fun to everyone.”
These leaders in baseball are providing inspiration and have initiated a call for action that is spreading across the nation.
Join the leaders in the field.