Each year Major League Baseball teams support autism awareness by hosting Autism Awareness Day at their stadiums. MLB partners with local and national autism organizations to create an enjoyable game experience for all fans affected by autism. Teams include families in traditional game day activities such as singing the National Anthem, “God Bless America”, and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, throwing the first pitch, and making game announcements. Certain stadiums have “quiet zones” for families who want to get away from the noise and crowd.
According to Helena Olivero from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Autism Awareness Day inspired MLB team, the Atlanta Braves, to create the Exceptional Fans Program at SunTrust Park. Olivero reports that during a meeting Mary Elizabeth Woodward, a guest services staff member, asked, “Why just one day? Why don’t we take steps to make every game more welcoming to children with special needs?” The Atlanta Braves developed the Exceptional Fans Program to make all of their home games more enjoyable and accessible for fans on the autism spectrum.
The MLB reports that Exceptional Fans Program takes into account the needs of individuals with disabilities before and during the game. The program sends families welcome kits with a sensory map and social storybook, which includes a breakdown of what to expect during the ball game. Take a look at the social storybook picture below:
The program offers noise canceling headphones to make the game enjoyable rather than overwhelming. Each Exceptional Fans Program participant receives “VIP” lanyards, which allows them to skip lines and contains emergency contact information in case of emergencies. Staff members are trained to advise families and game activity coordinators of the child’s needs throughout the game.
The Surden family attended an Atlanta Braves game with their son Gavi, a 10-year old with autism. Surden, Todd Surden, Gavi’s father told AJC, “we know this is a safe place for us and we are accepted…this shows they are an inclusive organization and care about all of their fans”. The Exceptional Fans Program welcomes families affected by autism to enjoy a day at the ballpark by helping children with autism have fun while feeling comfortable.