On Sunday, April 7, Lincoln Financial Field was transformed into a carnival-like atmosphere designed specifically with the needs of individuals on the autism spectrum in mind. The 10th annual Huddle Up with Eagles Autism Challenge, hosted by the Philadelphia Eagles and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, was open to children and adults on the spectrum, along with their friends and family members. This year, Huddle Up set record numbers with over 6,000 participants and $140,000 raised for the Center for Autism Research (CAR) at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Autism is the largest developmental disorder in the world, being identified at a rate of 1 in 59 children in the United States today. The need to assist families touched by autism has increased significantly over the years due to its growing prevalence, yet autism continues to be underfunded, misunderstood and under-researched.
“Huddle Up emphasizes our team’s commitment to the autism community by providing a welcoming, inclusive environment for families and friends to enjoy with their loved ones on the spectrum,” said Julie Hirshey, Director of Community Relations, Philadelphia Eagles. “We are fortunate to have great partners like CHOP and CAR who have played integral roles in growing our event over the past decade. Sunday was a transformational day for us and for many others, and our hope is that our efforts will continue to open the door to more families in the future.”
Families were invited to explore the stadium locker rooms, take pictures with the Lombardi Trophy, meet Eagles players and cheerleaders, and participate in interactive games on the field. Sensory stations and quiet rooms were made available to families who needed a break from the action, and child specialists from CAR were on hand to lend assistance when needed.
“For a full decade, the Eagles have been tremendous partners in making Huddle Up the best event it can possibly be for children and young adults on the autism spectrum, along with their families,” said Robert Schultz, PhD, Director of the Center for Autism Research at CHOP. “It is wonderful to see a mix of families who have made a point of coming every year and others experiencing this event for the very first time. We are extremely honored and grateful that the Eagles have continued their commitment to supporting families and to providing funding for autism research and outreach programs at CHOP."
The event also provided an opportunity for families to learn about resources and research opportunities with CAR, and to speak with some of the nation’s foremost autism specialists and researchers. A growing body of research shows that the earlier a child is diagnosed with autism and begins accessing services, the better their outcome will be later in life. CAR is conducting research to discover the earliest signs of autism, as well as developing novel treatments and therapies, with the goal of improving the quality of life for people with autism not just in childhood, but over the course of a lifetime.
In addition to CHOP, the Eagles are committed to supporting cutting-edge autism research that will provide answers and guidance for families of children with autism. In September 2017, Eagles Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie announced the launch of the Eagles Autism Challenge, a one-day bike ride and family-friendly 5K run/walk that contributes 100 percent of participant-raised funds to world-class institutions conducting innovative autism research in Philadelphia. Through Huddle Up with Eagles Autism Challenge, the Eagles continue to raise funds for CAR and encourage folks to participate in groundbreaking studies that can lead to better treatment and support.