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Ogden Mustangs hockey team helping bring awareness to autism

By Deborah Wilber - | Jan 24, 2022

Photo supplied, Steffen Bell/Ogden Mustangs

Former NHL player and coach Olaf Kolzig, center, prepares to drop the puck between Ogden Mustangs Captain Jack Jones, right, and San Diego Sabers Captain Weston Olsen at the start of a game Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, during Autism Awareness Night at the Ogden Ice Sheet.

OGDEN — Former National Hockey League All-Star goaltender and Stanley Cup-winning coach Olaf Kolzig made a special appearance at the Ogden Mustangs’ game against the San Diego Sabers on Friday in conjunction with the team’s Autism Awareness Night and wider team efforts to raise awareness about the condition.

One in 44 children were identified with autism spectrum disorder in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the latest data available. The estimate, based on 8-year-old children living in 11 different communities across the U.S., does not reflect the entire population of 8-year-old children nationwide.

Kolzig is a pioneer for autism awareness and has been ever since his son Carson was diagnosed with ASD when he was 15 months old. Behaviors and developmental characteristics used to diagnose ASD are not always detected in children 18 months and younger, according to the CDC.

At the time of Carson’s diagnosis, Kolzig said he and his wife thought it was probably the worst thing they could hear, but it turned out to be the best thing, he later concluded.

Ogden Mustangs owner Sean Wilmert is a close, personal friend of Kolzig’s and a supporter of organizations working to bring autism out of the shadows.

Photo supplied, Steffen Bell/Ogden Mustangs

Ogden Mustangs players celebrate a power play goal by Andrey Shmakov on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, during a game against the San Diego Sabers. The Mustangs wore special jerseys to raise Autism awareness. Jerseys were provided by Ogden X Media.

In 2018, Wilmert started Goalies For Autism, a 10-week NHL-style training camp, with all proceeds going to the Carson Kolzig Foundation to help fund autism research and families with autistic children.

“He’s such a giving person,” Wilmert said of Kolzig, his friend of 25 years who received the King Clancy Memorial Award by the NHL in 2006 for his humanitarian work.

Looking for additional ways to help bring awareness to the disorder affecting children of all races and social and economic statuses all over the world, Wilmert started planning his first autism awareness night at the Ogden Ice Sheet last summer.

He said he was frustrated with how little people responded when reaching out to local support groups and schools specializing in ASD. For Wilmert, the outcome only amplified how important it is for him to bring awareness to autism.

Wilmert and his wife, Kimberly, a fellow Mustangs owner, said autism will always have a special night with Ogden’s first and only Junior A hockey team.

Photo supplied, Steffen Bell/Ogden Mustangs

Ogden Mustangs leading goal-scorer Cade Herrera attempts a shot on goal in the third period of a game against the San Diego Sabers on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022.

ASD prevalence per 1,000 children in Utah rose from 7.5 in 2002 to 21.5 in 2018, according to the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network. Utah was one of 11 states with a tracking area for data collection in 2018. Data received by the network only represents a selection of sites within states, not entire states.

Data collected in 2018 was compiled by obtaining health and education records of children within 11 sites who exhibited behaviors consistent with ASD.

Environmental, biologic and genetic factors are among components believed to increase the likelihood of ASD. A comprehensive meta-analysis looking at perinatal and neonatal risk factors for autism revealed a critical period for developing ASD occurs before, during and immediately after birth.

“I think kids are born with the gene and something in the environment triggers it,” Kolzig said.

The CDC is seeking to understand what causes the disorder, which the agency considers an important public health concern. A “Study to Explore Early Development,” one of the largest U.S. studies to date, is being conducted by the agency to examine many possible risk factors such as genetics, environment, pregnancy and behaviors.

Although purely speculative on his part, Kolzig said he believes it was his son’s measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccine that contributed to his autism, although the CDC and other leading medical groups soundly dispute such claims.

“It’s too coincidental,” he said. “It was like a light switch.”

There is currently no cure for ASD. Early intervention treatment skills are proven helpful in a child’s development but many children do not receive a definitive diagnosis until they are much older, according to the CDC.

Kolzig said there is no clear path or process with autism. “You’re constantly looking at things in trial and error,” he said.


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