By Russell Levine
NHL.com Director of Production
Much has changed in the autism community since Athletes Against Autism, a group founded by three NHL players who are fathers of affected children, held its inaugural fundraising golf tournament in June, 2006.
Most significantly, in February the Centers for Disease Control revised upward its estimate of the prevalence of the disorder — a figure that now stands at a staggering one in 150 children, making it more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined.
This is the battle that has been joined by Athletes Against Autism’s founding players: Washington Capitals and former ECHL goalie Olaf Kolzig (pictured), recently retired Atlanta Thrashers captain Scott Mellanby, and former ECHL and NHL goaltender Byron Dafoe.
Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that typically lasts throughout a person’s lifetime. It impairs a person’s ability to communicate and relate to others. It is also associated with rigid routines and repetitive behaviors, such as obsessively arranging objects or following very specific routines. Symptoms can range from very mild to quite severe. Autism occurs in all racial, ethnic, and social groups and is four times more likely to strike boys than girls.*
Athletes Against Autism began as an idea among the three players, and became a reality several years ago. The group was originally an initiative of Cure Autism Now (CAN), one of the leading fundraising and research organizations addressing the disorder. In February, CAN merged with Autism Speaks, creating a much larger voice in efforts of research, awareness and outreach to combat a disorder which has devastated so many families. So, too has Triple-A, as the group is known, grown. It now boasts a roster of 53 member athletes from across all of professional sports. In the past year alone, it has held 12 Autism Awareness Nights with professional sports teams across the U.S. that have raised awareness and over $100,000.
* From the Autism Speaks Web Site