How the NBA’s Cleveland Cavs Changed the Game for Their Autistic Fans

The squeak of sneakers, the pounding of the ball on the hardwood floor, flashing lights, videos and messages on the scoreboard, dancers, PA Announcements, the roar of the crowd…. A professional basketball gamer is frantic, loud, and a lot to take in all at once for anyone. But it can also be overwhelming, especially if you have the sensory issues associated with autism.

Jeff and Amy Belles thought long and hard about whether it would be a good idea to take their son Carson, who is autistic, to a Cleveland Cavaliers basketball game at Quicken Loans Arena. Then the "Q Center" offered an Autism Awareness Night, and they thought this would be the perfect opportunity for him to see a game.

Much to their dismay, the experience was not good one. Carson was mistreated by Q Center Staff, taking a personal item from him as he tried to make his way through security upon. Jeff and Amy were told to "get their son under control," and were stunned by the lack of sensitivity. The experience was so traumatic that they decided to take to twitter to explain the mistreatment they received. When hearing their story, senior vice president of facility operations, Antony Bonovita, knew something had to be done. He reached out to Amy and Jeff who urged him to train his staff on what it means to be inclusive to people with autism.

Anthony, having a son of his own with autism, took their feedback to heart. "It was not enough just to say we will train people," he explained. "We could institute a sensory program, we could build a sensory room. We can do more because it's the right thing to do." He engaged with Kulture City, a nonprofit based in Birmingham, Alabama, that had already developed sensory inclusion training and brought it into the "Q". He also included Jeff and Amy to help create the program and take it to another level.

See how Sensory Rooms and other materials now available at The Q have made it possible for those with autism, PTSD, and other sensory conditions to enjoy an experience in their facility. "Who doesn't want to be in a room with Bubble Walls and art you can squeeze?" Antony raves. "It's a great place to come and chill out! My son, your child, gets to come to a game now. I get to go home and smile about that."

Get more information about Autism Spectrum Disorder at: https://www.autismspeaks.org/

Learn more about Kulture City at: https://www.kulturecity.org/

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