A competitive spirit is consuming the Schneider household these days. Puzzle races are all the rage.
Ben, the oldest son of John and Traci Schneider, is the family Lego master and puzzle aficionado, and he’s working his way through a 2,000-piece puzzle in a head-to-head race against his mom. Traci is struggling to keep up while constructing her 1,000-piece set.
“He pretty much beats you all the time,” she says.
“His brain is amazing, man,” adds John, the Seahawks’ general manager. “Our house is like a Lego museum.”
Like many families coping during the pandemic, the Schneiders — John, Traci, Ben and 16-year-old Jack — have tried to get creative while spending more time together at home. The puzzle races have been a productive outlet, and always have been for Ben, who was 3 when he was diagnosed with autism.
Ben is 18 now, and like many making the transition into adulthood, he is trying to figure out what he wants to do next. He enjoys art and has dabbled in a virtual art class (not for him, it turned out) and volunteers once a week at a local food bank. But his anxiety, his parents say, has been heightened during the pandemic.
“He’s had a really rough go with his transition,” Traci says. “So we’re easing into things.”
“Adulthood, man,” John says. “Just being an adult and getting past that thought in your head of being on your own, doing your own laundry, cooking … and then transitioning into college. It’s scary. It’s very scary for him.”
Adds Traci: “And just dealing with the mental health aspect of all of this stuff, you know, it’s so incredibly present with kids with autism. And that’s really another massive challenge through all of this. Because we’re all feeling it, but they just feel it so much more.”
In 2012, the Schneiders founded Ben’s Fund, which has raised $4.25 million to support families affected by autism. Because of the pandemic, they had to cancel their annual Prime Time celebrity waiter fundraiser in the spring. But they have organized an online auction starting Friday that features autographed memorabilia from Seahawks stars Russell Wilson, DK Metcalf, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and Greg Olsen.
The auction began Friday and will run until 8 p.m. next Friday, Oct. 30, at https://auctions.seahawks.com.
Ben’s Fund has provided some 2,350 grants to local families since 2012.
“We knew when we got the opportunity to be in a position to do something that this is what we wanted to do — we wanted to do something directly for the families,” Traci says. “Because we saw so many families struggling for financial help to get their kid the help that they needed, and to me that’s the worst possible position to be in — you know that there’s something going on with your child, but you can’t get them help. And that was just infuriating to John and I, so we knew that that’s the route we always wanted to take.”
In 2015, the Seahawks were the first NFL team to offer fans a sensory kit, which includes noise-canceling headphones, ear plugs and sensory toys. Last year, Traci helped spearhead the creation of CenturyLink Field’s “A-OK Sensory Room,” a place for fans with autism, sensory challenges or PTSD who may be feeling overwhelmed during a game.
During a Zoom interview this week, Traci held up a thick stack of manila envelopes containing applications from families seeking assistance. With virtual schooling, many families have applied for new technology for their child — a new laptop or iPad. Others have asked for bicycles or sensory toys. Weighted blankets are a popular item too.
Ben’s Fund has also started offering grants for 19- to 23-year-olds to support education and job training for those who, like Ben, are making the transition to adulthood.
“Over the years, this has just taken off into something so massive, and we’re so grateful for it,” Traci says. “There’s so many people in this community that have joined us on this journey to really make it possible, and to see the depth of the impact that we’re all able to make through this is humbling, and we’re very thankful.”