There are many 25-year-old adults who enjoy playing recreational baseball.
But I dare say you won’t meet one as dedicated or ambitious as Taylor Duncan, who also just happens to be autistic.
Duncan lives in Dallas, Ga., and is the commissioner and director of the Alternative Baseball Organization (ABO), a nonprofit that enables adults with autism and other disabilities to succeed in baseball and life.
He wants to start a new ABO team that serves Wilkes County and the surrounding area. The closest ABO programs are currently in Hickory and Mount Airy.
Autism is a serious developmental disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and interact. When he was a child, Duncan had speech issues, anxiety and other symptoms that prevented him from playing competitive sports.
In addition to developmental delays, Duncan told me that some people’s preconceived ideas about autism also held him back athletically. He didn’t want someone else telling him what he could or could not accomplish with sports and autism.
“My calling is to change that,” said Duncan, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of 4. “We strive to break barriers and power through perceptions.”
Duncan said that with the help of his mother, teachers, mentors and coaches who believed in him, he founded ABO with the goal to inspire others, raise awareness and gain acceptance for autism and special needs globally through the sport of baseball.
So far, Duncan has started ABO teams in many areas of the South, including in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, and here in North Carolina.
Dozens of teams are tentatively set to start playing in the late spring or early summer of 2021. It’s a challenging process, he says, because it takes about six months to fill a team due to the lack of catered services available in most areas for teens and adults with disabilities.
The ABO teams travel to play other teams on traditional high-school-sized fields, following the same rules as Major League Baseball. In other words, they play with wooden bats and steal bases just like the professionals.
The organization provides equipment and resources to help a program become successful.
The coronavirus pandemic has made things even harder for ABO. Recruitment of volunteers, coaches and players has taken place virtually on Zoom instead of face to face.
Players can be of all experience levels, he said. Some may be pitched to with slow, overhand pitches or some may hit off a tee. Regardless of expertise, players will be coached to develop their own physical and social skills and continue a path toward independence.
“I started this organization to give others on the spectrum/special needs the opportunity to be accepted for who they are and to be encouraged to be the best they can be,” said Duncan. “We need this to be in as many communities as we can, and I’m not going to stop until that happens.”
Last year, Duncan was recognized as a “community hero” at an Atlanta Braves baseball game. Duncan and the ABO have also been featured on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight and NBC’s weekday Today Show.
For more information about how to get involved in Wilkes County, reach out to Duncan at 770-313-1762 or alternativebase