A baseball league for individuals with autism and other disabilities is expanding to central Oklahoma.
In 2016, Taylor Duncan, a 25-year-old with autism from Dallas, Georgia, started the Alternative Baseball Organization, a non-profit aiming to provide an authentic baseball experience for teens age 15+ and adults with autism and other disabilities.
Duncan said he created the organization to ensure that participants gain social and physical skills for success in life, both on and off the diamond.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, recruitment for 2021 has begun virtually. Duncan said the league needs volunteer coaches and managers, players and volunteers to get the new programs started.
For the players in the league, it’s all about forming friendships, because that’s what they take with them off the field, Duncan said.
“They learn social skills through authentic experiences, and they get those experiences with the game of baseball and our organization,” Duncan said. “It gives them the opportunity to test those social skills and really fine tune them to be able to transition and be able to be successful in life.”
Duncan said one of the most important skills participants develop and refine is the ability to communicate effectively.
“They learn how to motivate other teammates and communicate plays on the field,” Duncan said. “They’re developing team chemistry, and what it takes to succeed and how to work together as a team.”
The league has an established team 80 miles south of Norman in Duncan, and now that the organization has grown, Duncan said it’s time to expand to the metro and give the team in Duncan some in-state competition.
Duncan said continuing to establish teams in other areas is important because it gives individuals with special needs an outlet.
“No matter where you go, I’ve learned that once you graduate from high school, the services that help them tend to dip,” Duncan said. “There’s just not enough resources that are still available for those with disabilities to continue their enrichment toward becoming independent once they age out.”
Unlike other leagues around the country that have assistants for players on the field, everyone plays independently in the ABO, Duncan said.
The ABO is designed for teens and adults on the spectrum who are truly baseball enthusiasts, he said.
“Everybody plays independently on the field, so this is a step toward a traditional program,” Duncan said. “If we really have a big passion for baseball, it shouldn’t end for us at high school age. We should be able to play forever if we want, because they don’t call it America’s pastime by name only.”
Regardless of experience level, Duncan said ABO gives individuals with disabilities an opportunity to have experiences with others like themselves.
“It gives them something to enjoy that they will remember for the rest of their lives,” Duncan said.