We’ve always heard that it’s not about whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. For the members of the Include Autism baseball team, this proverb takes on a whole new meaning.
Around 20 young men between ages 5 and 22 get together one a month to play ball on the Lunging Lizards and Thunder Pandas teams purely for the joy of the sport.
The classic American pastime is adapted for the needs of those with autism spectrum disorder. The rules are modified to include just two innings, while some players get extra help from an adult while hitting the ball. No one seems too concerned about foul balls, stealing bases, or field positions.
The games are heavily attended by encouraging family and friends who show their support from the bleachers. 18 year old Chase is usually irritated by large crowds, but he feels comfortable on the baseball field located at Twin Trails Park in Rancho Peñasquitos, CA.
Even being comfortable in a large group is a big step for Chase, according to his mother. While running toward a base, Chase gets distracted by a stick. He proceeds to wander over to a tree and play with the twigs there. He may be done with the game for today, but that’s just fine with mom- it was a good day for her son if he enjoyed himself with the team.
The nonprofit Include Autism organizes the baseball games to provide athletic activities for children who do not fit in with traditional little league teams. Even those who are more high-functioning have difficulty following all the rules of a traditional game. Include Autism was founded in 2003 by Tina Waters in order to provide socialization opportunities for children and adults with ASD.
The baseball league is managed by Tina’s husband Mark. Each player is assigned a buddy to help him hit the balls, field them, and run bases. Members of Include Autism pair up with the most severely disabled players, while high school volunteers are assigned to the more high-functioning boys.
Games are capped at two innings because of the player’s tolerance for crowds and social activity. Some of the boys have sensory issues with wearing uniforms and helmets. Everyone is reminded to watch the ball since many are easily distracted.
“It’s really fun to help the kids like this who don’t get to play regular baseball,” says Tyler Cunningham, a 14 year high schooler who has been volunteering with Include Autism for five years. “Watching them hit the ball is my favorite part.”