Softball program helps raise awareness for Autism Acceptance Month


Rachel Rudisill / The Sunflower

Junior Sydney McKinney wears a puzzle piece ribbon representing autism appreciation month. Ribbons were provided by sophomore Lauren Lucas’s mom.

April is national Autism Acceptance month. With multiple Shocker softball players having austistic family members, the athletes knew they wanted to bring awareness to the condition in a positive way.

The idea sparked from junior Sydney McKinney and sophomore Lauren Lucas, who both have brothers with autism. Lucas’ mother bought puzzle piece ribbons to each of the players to wear in their hair during games. The puzzle pieces represent the complexity and wide variety within the autism spectrum.

“Every year me and Lauren Lucas try to wear the ribbon just to raise awareness,” McKinney said. “I know on my social media, I like to post Autism Speaks. It’s a big platform for autism and it just brings awareness to how autistic people function, signs of anxiety, what triggers them and things like that. I think it’s just really important that people do know these things.”

Autism Speaks not only helps individuals learn signs of autism, but also has portals for parents and educators to learn how to better provide for children. There is also a section for individuals with the condition to help them understand why they are acting or feeling a certain way.

The website contains hundreds of articles that can be narrowed down by age, level of support and resource type.

“She’s (McKinney) definitely somebody that as a role model to so many is doing a great job bringing awareness to autism and the functionality of people that are autistic,” Head Coach Kristi Bredbenner said.

McKinney grew up in Norborne, a small town located in Missouri. Residents were not well informed about autism and young children did not understand why Rider, McKinney’s younger brother, acts differently than others.

“Just having awareness [about autism] is important,” McKinney said. “Maybe a parent sees it and tells their kid is like, ‘Hey, you can’t do this around Rider,’ or, ‘Rider’s saying this because he is autistic. Not because he doesn’t like you.’”

The Shockers began wearing these ribbons on April 1, the first day of Autism Acceptance month. In less than a week, the Shockers have received positive feedback.

One of the players from Tulsa approached McKinney the Sunday concluding the Tulsa Series and expressed how she appreciated WSU bringing awareness to autism. The Tulsa player also has a brother diagnosed with autism, who was attending the game. McKinney decided to give some of the Tulsa players extra ribbons from their locker room to help spread awareness.

“It’s cool to know that a lot of other families do have siblings and members with autism,” McKinney said.   

The Shockers plan to continue wearing the ribbons each April to help people understand autism and teach them that people with autism are regular people. 

“There’s a lot of functioning kids out there and human beings that have autism and we need to support them and all the other endeavors that they’re involved in,” Bredbenner said.