Jazz celebrate Autism Awareness Night — a night that has new meaning to Jazz forward Joe Ingles

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) sails in for a dunk in the final seconds of the first half as the Utah Jazz face the Los Angeles Lakers in their NBA game at Vivint Smart Home Arena Wed., March 27, 2019, in Salt Lake City.

Joe Ingles didn’t always pay attention to the Jazz’s annual Autism Awareness Night.

“I’ve played in the game in previous years, but not taken as much notice,” Ingles said.

But now that his son Jacob has been diagnosed with autism, he wants everyone to have a larger understanding of what the night represents, and how it can impact lives of Utahns everywhere.

The Ingleses noticed Jacob’s tendencies relatively early in his development, which has allowed them to support his normal growth with the help of an autism specialist. That therapist works with Jacob for about 20 hours a week, and they say they’ve already seen strides since his January diagnosis.

“Jacob’s unreal. The last three weeks, he’s kind of come out of his shell even more, which has been pretty awesome to see. To hear his voice for the first time is something that you don’t really forget,” Ingles said.

Ingles and his wife also want to make sure that there’s enough funding for families to get their children the care they need. Some of that comes through private donations — like the ones fans made at the game through a special text line. Vivint also pledged to donate $5,000 for every assist Ingles gave against the Lakers on Wednesday night.

They also want to protect and enhance government funding for autism therapy.

“We’re not the only ones, obviously, who has these needs. Especially in Utah, it’s an extremely high rate,” Ingles said. He cited a study which indicated 1 in 54 Utah children have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.

The Jazz went all out for this year’s Autism Awareness Night. Every fan received a blue rally towel labeled “Let’s Talk About Autism,” and many of the Jazz wore custom autism awareness shoes, painted by sneaker artist Kickstradomis. Those shoes will be auctioned off to generate more donations. The arena store’s item of the night, the children that line up with the players during the national anthem, a third-quarter timeout moment of celebration, and even a blue Chip Cookie all sought to raise the event’s profile.

Overall, Vivint, the Jazz and the Ingles family say they’ll give $1.2 million in support of autism awareness in the 2019 calendar year.

All in all, Ingles and his wife know they’re lucky — by discovering Jacob’s diagnosis early, they’ve been able to make a larger impact in his life. They want other families to have that same success.

“We’ve had all of these questions, or people telling us what their kids are doing, and asking if they should get checked,” Renae Ingles said. “I think if you’ve got that feeling, or if you’ve got those questions, you’re better off doing the process.”