EAST COBB, Ga. — 24-year-old Taylor Duncan was diagnosed with autism at the age of 4.
“I had speech issues, sensory issues, anxiety issues, but my mother helped me through a lot of those obstacles when I was very young,” he said. “Despite our efforts, I still faced a lot of social stigma from peers as I got older, and the perceptions. Yeah, they hurt, but I've been able to turn both my good and bad experiences into something special for me to be able to pass on to all of our players in as positive of an environment as possible.”
That positive environment is a baseball field. In early 2016, Duncan founded the Alternative Baseball Organization (ABO) which provides an authentic baseball experience to teens and adults with autism and special needs.
“We play on traditional fields using the classic version of the Major League Baseball rule set, and the only adaptation is the type of ball will use,” Duncan said. “It’s slightly larger and softer than the regulation size baseball, to accommodate those of all skill levels from novice to professional.”
The organization started in Powder Springs, he said, and two years later a second team was formed in Dallas, GA. Since then, Duncan said, the organization has continued growing.
“Here we are today in 14 different states, around 30 different programs, most of them being throughout the Southeastern area,” he said. “A lot of them are in the greater Atlanta area to provide this authentic experience where we accept them for who they are, encourage them to be the best they can be, and instill the confidence needed to fulfill dreams in life on and off the baseball diamond.”
Everything was on an upward trajectory, Duncan said, until this year when COVID-19 hit.
“A lot of the donors and businesses that would donate or sponsor our organization, a lot of that ended up getting cut due to the coronavirus, and I understand why. They have to be able to cover for all their employees as well,” he said. “We've got to have the funding coming in for us to keep the doors open, of course, and we're trying to provide this experience for really everyone across metro Atlanta if they want to participate.”
Resurgens Orthopaedics recently provided ABO with a grant, allowing the organization to purchase equipment and expand by 12 new teams, two of which have already formed. Even when they’re not on the field, Duncan said the organization provides social opportunities online, allowing the players to interact with each other.
“It's really the heart and the desire to help other people out, the desire to help other people succeed, the desire to encourage people to be the best that they can be at something, and to encourage people to go beyond even their own perceived limitations,” he said. “You never know what they can accomplish when you give them that open space to be able to accomplish the things that they want to accomplish.”
Duncan said 2020 has been a tough year, but he and his team are dedicated to the cause, and they’re doing everything possible to keep the players safe.
“When it comes to the COVID pandemic, we're leaving it up to each individual coach manager to decide based off the guidance and suggestions from their local department of public health and the CDC, whether it is safe to return to practice or not,” he said. “If they decide they are going to return, like our team in Gastonia, North Carolina, every program has to submit a letter of how they plan to stop and combat the spread of COVID-19. And they have to send us a list of guidelines with how they plan on social distancing, and how they plan on maintaining those suggested CDC guidelines, as well as the guidelines from their individual governors."
Duncan said he expects most of the programs to be fully operational once again by Spring of 2021.
For more information about ABO, including how to donate, CLICK HERE.
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