By Ayala Ben-Yehuda
State Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Bayside), the New York Mets and leading autism agencies in the metropolitan area announced last week the first-ever Autism Awareness Day would be held at Shea Stadium Sunday.
About 500 autistic children, most of whom are from Queens, and another 2,000 of their family members and supporters will attend Sunday’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, said Gary Maffei, executive director of the Astoria-based Quality Services for the Autism Community and the organizer of the event.
Autism is now the third most common developmental disability in the United States, even more common than Down Syndrome, according to QSAC.
“Not only is autism hard on the children, but it’s hard on their families as well,” said Weprin, a Mets fan who came up with the idea of Autism Awareness Day.
“It gives them a chance to experience Met magic and at the same time raises awareness of the disease,” said Weprin.
While the event will be fun, its purpose is also to educate the public as well as families touched by the developmental disability, which affects communication and sensory development.
Autism can manifest itself in a variety of behaviors including repetitive body movements, rocking, attachments to objects and difficulty with transitions or changes in routine, according to QSAC.
Informational pamphlets will be handed out to thousands of fans in attendance, and volunteers will answer questions and distribute literature about support services at tables.
Game announcers will also discuss autism in the broadcast booth with Jim Watkins, a news anchor for the WB11, whose 5-year-old son Liam is autistic.
Mets starting pitcher Tom Glavine presented Liam with a team jersey at a news conference Friday announcing Autism Awareness Day.
“It’s an epidemic now,” said Watkins of the disorder. “It has shot up in the last 10 years … nobody knows why.”
For more information about Autism Awareness Day, call 718-728-8476 or visit www.qsac.com.
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.