Texas Woman’s University faculty and students hit a home run in early April when they managed an Autism Awareness Night for children and their families at a Frisco RoughRiders baseball game.
More than 15 families participated in this first-of-its-kind event for the RoughRiders. According to Gwen Weatherford, director of TWU’s sport management program, the baseball team specifically requested support from TWU. Twenty TWU occupational therapy students and faculty members managed the event, with hosting support from TWU students in sport management and kinesiology.
“We always are looking to partner with community organizations wanting to expand family participation in local events and entertainment venues that might otherwise be difficult for children with autism because of their sensitivities to sounds, lights, touch, tastes, smells and other stimuli,” Shannon Levandowski, occupational therapy associate clinical professor, said. “The Frisco RoughRiders and their fans were awesome to work with!”
At the game, TWU faculty and students designed and staffed four sensory-friendly spaces that allowed families to freely move between their ballpark seats and these areas as needed. A calming area included beanbags and blankets. Other stations featured finger painting, shaving cream exploration, Play-Doh® creations and obstacle courses, as well as an alternative area for viewing the game, ballpark fireworks, music and digital displays.
“The incredible TWU students helped make our Autism Awareness Night truly special,” Kathryne Buckley, assistant vice president of the RoughRiders’ Partner & Event Services, said. “This was an event we wanted to make sure we did right, and their assistance was instrumental in realizing that vision. We are eager to continue the partnership with TWU in future years to help make memorable and impactful nights like this possible.”
For several years, TWU’s occupational therapy faculty and students, primarily directed by TWU Associate Professor Tina Fletcher, have provided sensory-friendly spaces and specialized training for staffers at locations such as the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Children’s Theatre and the Dallas Zoo.
“We’re celebrating our occupational therapy program’s 75th year,” Levandowski said. “Today, TWU’s OT program ranks among the top in the U.S., and is the oldest in Texas. Community events like these underscore our commitment to creating inclusive communities for people with disabilities by helping them adapt to their situations and participate in life’s activities as much as possible.”