With World Autism Awareness Day coming up this week, Hawks legend Dominique Wilkins penned a personal essay for The Players' Tribune on Wednesday about his connection with autism and other developmental disorders, and how the NBA's current hiatus has helped put those challenges into perspective.
Wilkins has two daughters -- 22-year-old Danielle, who has autism, and 12-year-old JoJo, who has spina bifida -- with special, sensory needs. That makes attending basketball games difficult for them, and eventually, Wilkins had to stop bringing his daughters to Hawks games. But through the KultureCity foundation, Wilkins has worked to help make State Farm Arena more sensory-inclusive so that his daughters and other children with special needs can more comfortably enjoy games.
"This was a game-changer for my family," he says. "All of my children could finally be accepted, accommodated, and included."
Wilkins says that being deprived of the ability to watch live basketball games and interact with other people in recent weeks has helped him appreciate part of the struggle his children go through. Social isolation isn't a temporary measure for Danielle, JoJo, and so many others; it's a constant and exasperating reality that never ceases.
"I realized that the social isolation we are all feeling now — and the sense of missing out on the ability to enjoy all our favorite sports games and concerts and other live events — is something that my two children live through all the time," Wilkins said. "Like so many other kids with similar challenges, this is their daily life."
Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles, whose son, Jacob, has autism, has been open about the challenges his family has faced with Jacob in the last few years, and expressed his support for Wilkins' message on Monday.
"He [Wilkins] is one of driving forces behind helping the 1 in 20 people affected by sensory issues," Ingles said on Twitter. "Basketball is irrelevant when it comes to real life."
The 30th annual World Autism Awareness Day will take place on April 2, with the goal of raising awareness, understanding, and inclusion for people with autism. According to the CDC, approximately one in every 54 children falls on the autism spectrum -- nearly all of whom have some sort of sensory challenge. Typically, the NBA recognizes Autism Awareness Day at games, but with games temporarily suspended, Wilkins urged fans to take it upon themselves to raise awareness.
"Tomorrow, as we recognize World Autism Awareness Day, take a moment and reflect," he writes. "Basketball will be back. Stronger and better than before. Our sense of social isolation will disappear as we rejoin our communities. But for those with sensory needs and disabilities, the world will remain the same unless we change it for them by increasing our understanding, acceptance and inclusion."