Clubs team up for MLB Autism Awareness initiative

Baseball will once again conduct league-wide effort to raise awareness

Clubs team up for MLB Autism Awareness initiative

With iconic landmarks around the world ready to "Light It Up Blue" for Autism Awareness Month this April, Major League Baseball announced on Friday that it will once again conduct a league-wide effort this season to raise awareness for the millions of people living with autism.

Starting April 9 at Coors Field for the Rockies' game against San Diego, all 30 clubs have selected one home game during the season to support the cause. The MLB Autism Awareness initiative is again linked with Autism Speaks, the world's leading autism science and advocacy organization.

"Major League Baseball is proud to join all 30 clubs, our fans and Autism Speaks in supporting people and families affected by autism," said Tom Brasuell, MLB vice president of community affairs. "Our clubs have been outstanding advocates for the cause, and we thank them for their commitment to this initiative and effort to provide families with a wonderful ballpark experience."

"Major League Baseball has been a tremendous partner of Autism Speaks in raising autism awareness and meeting the needs of fans on the spectrum at many ballparks," said Peter Morton, vice president of corporate development at Autism Speaks. "We are grateful for the support provided by all 30 MLB clubs each year."

Many of the MLB Autism Awareness games throughout the league will provide special opportunities and a safe, friendly environment for families and individuals affected by autism, allowing them to experience a game like never before. Additionally, a part of the ticket sales proceeds from select games will go toward Autism Speaks' efforts to increase awareness, fund innovative autism research, provide adult and family services, and advocate for the needs of people with autism and their families.

Many clubs will work with Autism Speaks or other autism awareness organizations to recognize local families during pregame ceremonies. Additionally, in select ballparks, members of the autism community can enjoy the game from designated "Quiet Zones" with a sensory-friendly environment. Some clubs also will provide opportunities to participate in various traditional baseball activities, including throwing out the first pitch, singing the national anthem, announcing "Play ball!," singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and performing "God Bless America."

During the 2015 regular season, more than 30 Autism Awareness events took place in MLB ballparks, resulting in thousands of dollars from game-ticket sales that went toward efforts by Autism Speaks to improve the lives of individuals with autism and their families.

All fans can get involved Saturday by participating in World Autism Awareness Day -- unanimously declared by the United Nations -- choosing to "Light It Up Blue" all over social media and using the #LIUB hashtag. This also is National Autism Awareness Month in the U.S.

Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders -- autism spectrum disorders (ASD) -- caused by a combination of genes and environmental influences. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by communication difficulties, social and behavioral challenges, as well as repetitive behaviors. About one in every 68 children has been identified with ASD, according to Centers for Disease Control. Worldwide, it's about one in 160, according to the World Health Organization.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that ASD occurs in all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups, but is almost five times more common among boys than among girls. More people than ever before are being diagnosed, and it is unclear how much of this increase is due to a broader definition of ASD and better efforts in diagnosis. What's clear is that more can be done to help families with autism so they can freely go more places and have more resources for full and meaningful lives.

"People with autism want to go to the store, to a restaurant, to a baseball game," said Larry Cancro, Red Sox senior vice president of Fenway Affairs. His daughter, Lisa, was diagnosed with autism as a youth, and he played a key role in making this MLB initiative happen.

"A family wants to live their life like every other typical family. The fact that MLB is trying to learn how they can accommodate families with this better -- because it's a massive number -- it means they're trying to reach people who to date have not been able to come out to the ballpark."

For more information about MLB Autism Awareness and to check on respective club dates commemorating the initiative, please visit MLBCommunity.org.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.