Team Autism, Team Isiah

The Dodd family, who lives in Church Hill, Md., has rallied around their second son, Isiah, his entire life.

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“When he was first diagnosed,” says his mother, Alicia, “[Gene] was . . . it was denial. He tried to make him be as normal as possible.” But when Isiah got to middle school and high school, Gene started going into the classroom on a regular basis, and he was around all the kids, he was amazed by them and how much they taught him.

Isiah’s mom says they try to help people understand him . . . and autism. “We’ve had friends and they used to say ‘It’s probably pretty hard to take care of him, isn’t it?’,“ says Alicia. “But it’s not. It’s quite easy to take care of him. We’re lucky, he doesn’t have any behavior problems; he’s not on any medication. He cares more about you than what’s going on with him. If you’re having a rough day, he’s ready to give you a hug and say ‘it’s okay, you’ll have a better day tomorrow’.”
“A lot of people said ‘Oh, don’t send him to high school . . . they don’t do anything with them.” says Alicia. “But we wanted to give it a chance.”
“When I was in Eighth grade,” says Isiah, “my parents decided I should go there [Queen Anne’s County High School] and see if I like it. And I really did.”
“We were there at least once a week, stopping in and checking to see that he was getting taught what he needed,” says Alicia. “He had a great teacher, and she was like ‘he can do it. They can all do it’.”

While at Queen Anne’s, Isiah and his classmates started participating in Unified Sports, which pairs Special Olympics athletes with non-disabled athletes. On picture day, says Gene, “Isiah came home and was upset because they got their pictures taken. He said ‘Dad, we don’t have any jerseys like you have for softball’.” So Gene talked to the school’s athletic director and said “Every other team has uniforms, why don’t they?” Gene ordered some that night, and when they came in the next week, he asked to get the group’s pictures retaken. “Then we started raising money.”
That was just the beginning of Team Autism. “It’s humbling,” says Gene. “We’ve been working hard for the last seven years.” Now Team Autism has products from leggings to hats, sweatshirts to jerseys, all available for sale throughthe group’s facebook page, @teamautismqa. The proceeds are donated to the special needs departments of Queen Anne’s, Kent Island, Kent County, and Caroline County high schools.

Team Autism has been able to donate a new stove for one special needs program and a washer and dryer for another. Alicia Dodd says it’s “whatever we can
do to help [the schools] out, because the kids need to know life skills. If they’re by themselves or go to a home, we want the kids to know how to take
care of themselves. And it makes them feel independent.”

Over the years the family has raised money to fund Team Autism through everything from 5k races, fish and crabcake dinner sales, spaghetti dinners, Longaberger basket raffles, you name it. One of the first projects outside of the clothing that they raised money for was a customized golf cart that Isiah now rides in during parades. “Giving out candy is one of my favorites,” Isiah says.

They’re also getting ready to buy a 24-foot concessions trailer. And all of it, says Gene Dodd, “stemmed from just one day when they didn’t have uniforms.”
These days Isiah, now 22, works at a local movie theater. He continues his life-skills learning at Benedictine in Easton, a facility that helps people with disabilities find jobs, learn life skills, and prepare for interviews.

He loves horseback riding, drawing, and pottery, “pottery is my favorite,” Isiah says. And, of course, he’s still competing in Special Olympics, playing tennis,
soccer, softball and bowling, in which he recently won gold, scoring a 165 with his very own custom-made Team Autism bowling ball.

Through it all, the Dodd family is there for Isiah. “We’re all there for him to cheer him on for everything,” says Alicia, adding that Isiah “keeps us busy and young at heart.” And they’re happy to help the autism community. “It feels good to give back,” she says. “Especially when it helps the kids. Just to see the smiles on their faces.”

Team Autism’s next event is the Team Autism Community Day in on April 14 in Church Hill, Md. The day includes a 5k run, a parade, a bouncy house, face painting, a corn hole tournament, K9 demonstrations, food, a wiffle ball tournament and more.

Find out more about Team Autism and support their cause at facebook.com/teamautismqa.

—Ann Levelle

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