Meet Aiden, it’s his Dream to take flight with the Atlanta Falcons!
Aiden Bailey is a 10-year-old from Winston, Georgia who loves all things football. If it involves football he’s doing it, whether it’s collecting football cards, playing Madden, going to events to meet coaches and players, or playing on his football team. Aiden is going into his second season of playing football, but he spent a year before that just learning the basics of the game with his dad through YouTube videos. Last season he played 99% of the snaps on both sides of the ball and would get upset if he was taken out just to get a drink of water. He has developed a passion for the game and is dedicated to playing. However, for the majority of Aiden’s childhood, his parents were not sure that he would be able to participate in team sports at all.
Aiden was diagnosed with autism, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and ADHD several years ago. Due to his condition he has had some difficulties interacting with peers in a group environment at times. School has also been a challenge for Aiden and he attends the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta 5 days a week. This does not allow him to have the typical day to day interaction with his peers in a traditional school setting. However, this all changed when he started playing football. Aiden fits in on the football field and feels like one of the guys. His dad, Adam, shared that Aiden wishes that he could attend school with his teammates, but he works very hard day in and day out despite all that has been thrown his way.
Aiden’s sports dream is “to meet Julio Jones and see the Atlanta Falcons play.” He loves going to different events to meet coaches and players at both college and professional levels, but that environment can often be very busy and overwhelming. His dad told us that “having his dream of meeting one of his favorite players would really make a tough year great for him.” We can’t wait to help make this football fan’s dream come true!
Aiden’s Dream Experience is a unique one and will take place in two parts. On Monday, September 19th Aiden experienced a first for any of our Dream Kids! On a night that seemed like any other night of football practice for Aiden, turned out to be a very special reveal. Aiden’s coach gathered the team and asked them to take a knee. His team, known as the Falcons, were greeted by two members of the Atlanta Falcons offensive line, Andy Levitre, and Tom Compton. Levitre and Compton requested to interrupt practice for a few minutes, and Aiden, with no idea that this was about him, sat amongst his team waiting to see what was going to happen next.
“Is there a #99 here? Number 99? Is there an Aiden Bailey here?”
It took a minute to realize that they were calling him, but Aiden made his way up to join the Falcons players. They explained that they were there to share some really special news. His Dream was coming true and it started right now!
The professional athletes from his all-time favorite team were going to stick around for his football practice, participate in some drills and just get to know Aiden. WOW! They also shared with him that he would be joining them on their turf very soon because he would be attending an Atlanta Falcons game in the next few weeks. The guys didn’t give away any other surprises but that was enough, Aiden was flying high and very excited about all of it! After all, it’s not every day that you have two professional football players show up at your football practice!
Aiden spent one-on-one time with the players and then led his teammates, as well the other 5 teams practicing, in a Q & A with Andy and Tom. He wanted the opportunity to ask the first question which was, “If they weren’t playing football, what would they be doing instead?”
As practice came to an end, Aiden said that it had been the “best night of his life!” Dream On 3 Atlanta Executive Director, Bryan McDowell noticed some pretty big differences in Aiden from their 1st meeting at the hospital to the Monday night practice, “He went from a cautious and quiet demeanor to a talkative child who is very comfortable and confident on the football field.” Being a part of a team has created a support system for Aiden, building confidence and helping him interact with peers. It is truly amazing to see how inclusive sports are and can change a child’s life in such a positive way!
Aiden had to wait a little bit for the second part of his Dream Experience, but on October 21st it was finally time to let him know that it was his Dream Weekend! Aiden thought he was just going to dinner with his family at his favorite restaurant in Douglasville, Cinco De Mayo Mexican Grill. However, when they arrived he was surprised to see friends and family waiting to help kick-off this special weekend for him. The surprises didn’t stop there though! After everyone enjoyed a delicious taco bar, we presented Aiden with a signed Matt Ryan jersey the Falcons sent for him. Aiden’s dad, Adam, shared with everyone how appreciative he and his family are of the support that they receive each and every day. It was then off in a limo to the Omni Hotel at the CNN Center to stay for the weekend!
On Saturday, Aiden and his family had a big day exploring downtown Atlanta. They began their day at the College Football Hall of Fame where Aiden was able to show off his skills on the replica, indoor, playing field. After that was a trip to the World of Coca-Cola where Aiden and his family got a private tour of the facility and learned about the history behind the famous brand. The trip wouldn’t be complete without the opportunity to sample one of the 100 beverages available to try from around the world! The final stop of our day was to the Georgia Aquarium, it’s the largest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere and has thousands of animals on exhibit. Aiden and his family got a private tour and enjoyed dinner to round out their day.
It was finally game day and Aiden was excited and ready to go! His day started with a tailgate provided by the Atlanta Falcons in the Publix Sponsored Lot. Once again he was joined by friends and family to celebrate his big day. He even got a special visit from the Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders and the mascot, Freddie Falcon! Before going into the Georgia Dome, Aiden got the chance to meet Falcons legend, Mike Haynes. It was a big morning for him, but we were only getting started.
Aiden and his family got to spend time on the sideline where he watched pre-game warmups and got to see Adam Levitre again! Also on the sideline with us was Falcons owner, Arthur Blank, and former President Jimmy Carter. It’s not everyday that you get to see one of our nation’s presidents in person! Aiden enjoyed the rest of the game from the stands with his family while the Falcons battled against the San Diego Chargers. It was a hard fought game for the Falcons, but unfortunately they lost by a field goal in overtime. Despite the loss Aiden and his family had a great time! The smile on Aiden’s face the whole weekend said it all – this was a dream come true.
Watch Aiden’s Full Dream Video by 1080 Productions
Photos by Esther Ayers Photography and Cedric Colyer – click below to view the full album
His sports dream is to meet Julio Jones and watch the Atlanta Falcons play!
Aiden was referred to us by our referral partner, Marcus Autism Center at Children’s Hospital of Atlanta.