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Seahawks GM John Schneider adds muscle to the fight against autism

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The Schneider family. (Seattle Seahawks)

BELLEVUE, Wash. -- In many ways, Ben Schneider is like any other 10-year-old boy -- he loves to play video games, has a great interest in Legos, and the room lights up when he laughs. But the son of Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider and his wife Traci has been living with autism his entire life, and that's added both complications and a new level of love to the process of raising their son.

The Schneiders first noticed differences in Ben's behavior patterns before his second birthday -- he would throw long tantrums, sometimes for no reason at all. The family's primary-care physician at the time suggested that the Schneiders take parenting classes, and it wasn't until John, who was the Green Bay Packers' director of football operations at the time, set up a session with the team's psychologist that the road to a correct diagnosis could begin.

"She validated all our concerns," Traci recently told the Seattle Times. "And she started us down the path toward a diagnosis. It was a long road, but we got there."

"Once you get the diagnosis, it really kind of rocks your world," John added. "I didn't know much about the disease. I thought it was like 'Rain Man.' But we had to kind of gather ourselves and figure out how to fix it."

On Thursday night, the Schneiders assembled a great many Seahawks players to help "fix it" at a charity dinner in a Seattle suburb. Nineteen current Seahawks (including receiver Sidney Rice and new quarterback Matt Flynn), a host of former Seahawks, head coach Pete Carroll, and a high percentage of the team's coaching staff were on hand to add their voices to the cause -- a new charity set up by the Schneiders called "Ben's Fund," which will partner with Families for Effective Autism Treatment of Washington to provide grants for the families with autistic children who do not have the financial and systemic advantages the Schneiders are fortunate enough to have. While Seahawks players acted as celebrity waiters, and hundreds of items (including jerseys from Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Stevie Johnson, Peyton Manning and Steve Smith) were auctioned off with "Ben's Bucks," the Schneiders talked about the meaning behind the event, and the charity itself.

"One thing that drew us to FEAT - Families for Effective Autism Treatment - is that we didn't have that organization when our son was diagnosed," Traci said. "We didn't have somebody to turn to say, 'what should we be doing, what avenues should we be going down, what are the things that can help him?'  We just kind of had to do it on our own.  And that's not a unique story, there's a lot of families that have to do this on their own which is why we wanted to partner up with FEAT."

"We met families here in the Seattle community that had worked with FEAT when we moved out here and these kids are doing great now," John added. "So there's a lot of hope, and a lot of really neat things going on, but there's a long, long road ahead of us for helping these children and helping people in the community understand these children.

"The understanding of the [autism] spectrum is huge, it's a puzzle.  Hopefully we can start raising the awareness and research starts coming along.  So Traci and I are involved a little bit with the research, but more so we want to be on the family side of it - the siblings, the parents - and help them out as much as we possibly could."

The event was emceed by Jay Glazer of Fox Sports and The NFL Network, and Glazer told Yahoo! Sports that he was very happy to do it because of his personal connections to the Schneiders, and to the hope to cure autism.

"I've known John and Traci for years, and I've known Ben since just about conception," Glazer said. "And I have a cousin who is severely autistic, who's 22 years old now. He's barely a functioning individual, per se. So, when John and Traci found out that their son was autistic, I hooked them up with my cousin's mom, Stephanie, who is also really involved with the Walk for Autism in New York. She got involved with the Schneiders, and she's been great to them. Also, my parents own a chain of preschools for communicationally handicapped children in New York -- autism, cerebral palsy, Down's syndrome -- I've worked with children like Ben through my entire upbringing."

According to recent figures, one in 88 children is diagnosed as autistic, and Glazer has seen it hit the NFL before.

"The great thing is that you really learn -- when I worked for CBS, I worked with Dan Marino. And Dan's son Mikey was autistic. Up until about 14 years old, he was even more limited than Ben. And all of a sudden, he came out of it. I was the first person to interview him about it, and he told me that he remembers what [being autistic] was like. 'I remember like it was being in a box,' he said. 'I remember wanting to say something or do something, and not being able to.' And on a night like this, I'm going to tell that story. Because your kids can hear you, and I get a little choked up talking about it, but your children can hear you. Like my cousin Michael -- he's really limited; he doesn't function well. But at least it gives his mom some comfort, to know that they can hear us in there.

"The Marinos had all the resources, the Schneiders have a lot of resources. They're trying to share those resources now."

If you would like to know more about the "Prime Time" event, learn about Ben's Fund, and contribute to the fight against autism, please click on this link.

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