Alex Blauet and sister Kayla in their seats for a Detroit Pistons game. (Donna Blauet)
Special Olympian Alex Blauet had a blast at a recent Detroit Pistons game.
The 14-year-old is autistic and lives with his parents and sister in Livonia, Mich., about 20 miles from Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. His love for basketball began when he started doing unified sports at his school, which puts people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team.
Going to an NBA game was a special outing for him and his family Feb. 11, when the Pistons played the Washington Wizards. “We decided to go to a Pistons game as a treat for him,” said his mother, Donna.
They started the evening with dinner at a crowded restaurant located inside Little Caesars Arena. It was filled with hyped-up basketball fans, and music blared through the speakers.
Donna Blauet realized she had forgotten to bring his headphones to block out the noise.
“He’s not one that typically gets too bothered by sounds, so we often forget his headphones, but at big areas and stuff like that, sounds do bother him,” she said.
Luckily, she remembered reading an article about how venues are starting to offer headphones and other items to those with sensory issues. She headed straight to customer service at Little Caesars Arena.
“So then they took my driver’s license as a placeholder. They had the headphones in nice little drawstring bags with fidgets and all sorts of things in there, but obviously the most important was the headphones,” she said.
The family was impressed with the ease of getting the bag and the knowledge the staff showed toward their needs.
“It was a tremendous relief and it turned it back into a real fun time for us,” said Alex Blauet’s father, Ron. “Everybody likes to be included. We try to give our son every opportunity to be a part of the community like everybody else. Something like the sensory bag is a great thing.”
The venue also has a sensory room that allows guests like Alex to unwind in a calm environment, but they didn’t need to take advantage of the room that day.
The family of four finished dinner and headed into the arena to watch the game.
“He absolutely enjoyed the game. At dinner he was able to calm down. He just had an incredible time, and the Pistons won, which helps,” Donna said.
Autism experts fully support what organizations like KultureCity, which has given Little Caesars Arena its Sensory Inclusive designation, are doing for society, said Laura Flis, who has been working with Alex since he was in preschool.
Flis is an autism consultant who works with 13 school districts in western Wayne County, Mich., instructing teachers how to work with children who have autism. Inclusion is a huge aspect of making sure people are integrated in society.
“It’s not just sensory issues anymore. It’s being inclusive of all (people). You have people who have physical disabilities, you have the elderly, you have people who have anxiety disorders,” Flis said.