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A year after son’s diagnosis, Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles promotes World Autism Month

Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles (2) talks with a couple young boys prior to the game as Utah Jazz and the Las Angeles Lakers play at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt lake City on Wednesday, March 27, 2019. As the the Utah Jazz recognize Autism.
Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles (2) talks with a couple of young boys prior to the game as Utah and the Las Angeles Lakers play at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, March 27, 2019.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Ever since Utah Jazz forward Joe Ingles and his wife Renae shared last February that their toddler son Jacob had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, they have used their platform to become tremendous advocates for people living with autism both here in the United States and in their native Australia.

With April being World Autism Month and April 2 designated as Autism Awareness Day, Joe Ingles did a number of things Thursday to publicly mark a day that has become important to his family. Throughout the day, he retweeted tweets from people who either have autism or are parents of kids with autism, and also shared a post about Jacob on Instagram.

“For those who don’t know, April is Autism awareness month. April 2nd is World Autism day!!! I’m saying this because my timelines over this period will be flooded by positive & inspiring people affected by Autism. Please share your story, you are not alone!!,” he tweeted Wednesday night, adding two blue hearts at the end (blue is the officially designated color for autism awareness).

On Thursday morning, Ingles posted a picture of his son on Instagram and wrote, “On January 8 2019 Jacob was diagnosed with Autism. In that time Jacobs improvements have been unreal. To hear my son say ‘Dadda’ for the first time was something I’ll never forget. I could not be more proud of him.

“We have had plenty of great days & plenty of rough ones. One thing for sure is we have his back, his sister has his back & we will continue to help, push, challenge & love him through it all. Awareness and acceptance is so important & we will continue to put this message out, not just today. Everyone needs to know that you have no idea what other adults, children & families are going through.. Be patient & ask someone if they need a hand. You are not alone & never will be.”

He added a blue heart and #WorldAutismDay.

Although technical difficulties limited his appearance, Ingles also appeared on an Instagram Live Thursday afternoon through the NBA’s official channel with Dr. Michele Kong, who is co-founder of KultureCity, an organization dedicated to better accessibility and inclusion for people with sensory needs (Joe and Renae Ingles are on the organization’s board).

“When you’re affected by something like this so closely, and obviously for us our son, you want to do everything you can,” Ingles told Kong. “You’re so driven to not only help Jacob for us, but for also every other family that doesn’t have this platform to be able to sit here and talk like this.”

Prior to Ingles’ Instagram Live appearance with Kong, the Jazz announced that Vivint Arena, which had a sensory room built prior to Jacob’s diagnosis, has received “sensory inclusive certification” from KultureCity. According to the announcement, the certification “required all arena staff to receive training from leading medical professionals regarding how to recognize guests with sensory needs and handle a sensory overload situation.”

In addition to visiting the sensory room, guests at the arena can also borrow sensory bags equipped with noise-canceling headphones, fidget tools, verbal cue cards and weighted lap pads for when they may feel overwhelmed by the environment, according to the announcement.

“We appreciate the home arena of the Utah Jazz taking the steps to be sensory inclusive and KultureCity certified,” Ingles said in a statement. “This is an important movement that not only impacts individuals with autism, but also dementia, PTSD and other similar conditions. No doubt, Vivint Smart Home Arena can be loud with our fans, but the presence of a sensory room from Vivint Gives Back and additional tools from KultureCity will help guests better enjoy the experience.”

The Jazz have, for a number of years, held an annual autism awareness night, but the 2019 event was more emotional on the heels of the Ingles’ then-recent announcement about their son. Vivint Arena had announced that it would pledge $5,000 to autism-related causes for each assist Ingles tallied against the Los Angeles Lakers up to five, and he reached that total less than 10 minutes into the game.

Ingles finished one rebound shy of a triple-double, opting not to re-enter the game during the final minutes to try to get it, as Utah had a comfortable lead.

This year’s autism awareness night was originally scheduled for Wednesday when the Jazz were scheduled to play the Cleveland Cavaliers.