By Charles Hallman
One in 88 U.S. children — boys are about five times more likely than girls — is diagnosed with autism according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). However, the federal research agency also points out that the greatest rate of increase is among Blacks and Latinos.
According to AutisminBlack.com, there are several reasons why Black children are not diagnosed and treated earlier, including lack of access to health care, distrust of medical professionals, racism and class. It also reports that too often Black children with autism are more often misdiagnosed with other disorders or behavioral problems, especially young Black boys at school.
“There are so many dynamics to autism,” says former major league baseball player Reggie Sanders, who started the Reggie Sanders Foundation in 1992 primarily to help provide resources and promote more public awareness on autism. His younger brother was diagnosed with the disability as well.
“He’s doing fantastic,” reports Sanders of his brother. They live about an hour apart from each other in South Carolina: “He’s really communicating using an iPad; it is beneficial for him because it’s very difficult for him to communicate verbally. His language is around the third-grade level. He’s using it and doing well.”
By establishing his foundation 20 years ago — Sanders says he used his own money and other financial sources to do so — it allowed him “to be able to do the necessary things I needed to do to help [my brother] and other autistic kids and adults. I could really help my brother more and make [autism]” more visible to the public. As part of his mission statement he commits to “provide those individuals with autism a lifetime network of opportunities, to become fully accepted, included and actively participating members our community…”
“My wife [Wyndee] and I are very active in this effort,” he points out. Autism is still misunderstood by the public, believes Sanders. “The biggest [concern] is that we cannot find a cure. So if we cannot find a cure, we got to find a way that we can make it comfortable for kids and adults with autism.
“How do you do that? You have programs and things that help them to deal with it along with the families themselves.”
Furthermore, children and adults with autism are misunderstood, continues Sanders. “For an autistic kid the misnomer is that this kid can’t do anything, and just put [him or her] in the corner and let them be,” he notes. “It’s about making sure that we pay more attention to him or her so that they can develop to be the best they can be.”
As for his brother, “He’s a 38-year-old man in a three-year-old body, so it takes a whole lot from my family to help him and take care of him,” says Sanders.
Since his retirement from baseball in 2007, Sanders has been active in his foundation, other charitable efforts, and helped his wife raise their four daughters. He also is a gospel singer: “I’ve always been inspired and loved gospel music. It’s fitting to parley this into who I am and what my foundation stands on.”
He also recently joined in a partnership with Riverphlo Entertainment, a new independent record label based in Los Angeles, and recently released the label’s first album by gospel legend Andrae Crouch, Crouch’s first offering in five-plus years.
Finally Sanders says he’s committed to “spread the message for the need to find treatments, cures and potential prevention to all who struggle with autism.” Every person should “have the sense of sensibility to be able to see someone who’s hurting to have compassion for that person.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.