ARLINGTON, Texas — Theo Coulombe loves numbers. He’s 4 years old but can count by intervals of 12, and when he watches his dad, Danny, play baseball, the digits on the back of his jersey are what Theo notices first.

For the Orioles, Danny Coulombe is wearing No. 54. The past few seasons as a left-handed reliever with the Minnesota Twins, Danny wore No. 53. The change in numbers is what stood out to Theo most about his dad’s move to a new Major League Baseball organization on the cusp of the season’s start, and yet it’s still not the number he wishes his dad could wear.

That would be 100 — his absolute favorite. But Lauren Coulombe, his mom, has to explain to Theo that baseball teams don’t put triple-digit numbers on the back of uniforms, no matter how cool that would be.

“We’re going to try to find a way to get Theo a 100 jersey this year,” Lauren said. “We love that he just loves 100, and I wish Danny could be number 100.”

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This is the way Lauren and Danny Coulombe have learned how their oldest son operates. In the fall of 2021, Theo was diagnosed with autism. They were new parents as it is, but Lauren and Danny were exposed to another learning opportunity: caring for their son, while navigating a career in baseball that leads Danny across the country each summer.

They’re still learning, as Lauren is quick to point out. But as they get to know their son’s unique qualities, they’ve discovered more about each other, and the power of love, understanding and patience. Now as members of the Baltimore Orioles, Lauren and Danny hope to raise autism awareness within a new community and city, creating an environment that welcomes people like Theo in every way, just as they do.

“Autism, it’s not a bad thing,” Danny said. “Their minds just work differently. So their likes and dislikes are just a little different than what you might have envisioned your 4-year-old liking. It’s more of just loving those things that he loves too, and loving him in the process.”

Danny and Lauren Coulombe remember the day their son was diagnosed with autism. They picked up on early indicators when he was 2, and he was diagnosed when he was 3. They described the diagnosis as emotional, and felt fortunate to discover it early.

The discovery meant Lauren and Danny were able to enroll Theo in an early intervention program for children with autism. Danny and Lauren better understood their son when they learned of autism as a tree. There are certain branches that flourish — Theo, for instance, loves numbers, coloring and fishing — and there are other branches that are underdeveloped.

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While in the Minneapolis public school system last year, Theo’s communication skills vastly improved while in the special education program. At home, Theo studies numbers, and Lauren will occasionally pull out a calculator to keep up with her son’s addition and subtraction skills. At school, Theo develops his conversation skills.

“A lot of his speech goals are actually based more on trying to have what are called ‘typical conversation’ with peers,” Lauren said. “He’ll work on, OK, let’s try to have two consecutive exchanges with a peer, and it may not be on a subject you love. It may not be numbers. But trying to just practice ways of communicating with other people that’s not maybe something he enjoys so much.”

But Lauren and Danny also learned not all connections need to come through verbal communication. One of Theo’s best friends in his class in Minneapolis was a nonverbal boy around his age.

At a math night the school hosted, Danny and Lauren met the dad of Theo’s best friend. They told him that Theo was best friends with his son, and the dad didn’t immediately understand how, since his son didn’t use words to communicate.

Then they watched as Theo and his friend ran up to see each other, dancing around in their way of greeting.

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“It was so sweet for us and for that dad to get to see,” Lauren said. “Just because we don’t communicate verbally doesn’t mean we don’t make connections with people and become friends and try to meet them where they’re at.”

Even for Theo, whose communication skills are ever-improving, the use of visual indicators helps maintain his schedule. Lauren bought a visual schedule that includes cue cards with Velcro on the back, helping Theo see that the first thing on his agenda is to eat breakfast, brush his teeth and go to the park.

Those came with the set. She created her own cue cards to better cater to their lives. There’s the Chick-fil-A logo, so Theo knows they’re heading for a special lunch and an opportunity to play in the jungle gym. There’s also a baseball — and he’s learned what that means.

Theo has shown more interest in watching his dad this season. At one point, he asked his mom why his dad wanted to play baseball.

“I said, ‘Just like you love numbers, dad loves baseball,’” Lauren recalled. “And kind of after that, we’ve seen him want to watch more.”

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Theo was glued to the screen during Baltimore’s opening series at Fenway Park, waiting to see Danny take the mound for the Orioles. And as opening day Thursday at Camden Yards approaches, Theo has gotten more excited. Lauren, Theo and Tommy, the family’s youngest child, will travel to Baltimore to watch Danny play, and each morning Theo asks whether it’s time for that trip.

It’s at Fenway Park on Sunday, World Autism Awareness Day, that Danny Coulombe became emotional watching as a 7-year-old threw out the first pitch. The boy reminded Danny of his own son.

“We just love him the way he is,” Danny said. “He’s perfectly and fearfully and wonderfully made. We wouldn’t change him for a thing. He’s taught us more than we could have ever dreamed of, honestly. He’s a joy.”

Their lives changed when they discovered Theo had autism. But in the time since, they’ve grown with their son, and they can’t imagine loving him any other way. Now in Baltimore, in a new city and with a new organization, Lauren and Danny hope others can understand the ebullient joy that Theo brings them each day.

“We just think that it’s really important to love Theo where he’s at and enjoy all the beautiful ways God has created his unique mind, and also give him tools to be in a world that typically caters toward neurotypical individuals,” Lauren said. “We want Theo to grow up in a world that really also values neurodivergent people, like him, and just bring awareness to neurological diversity and what a beautiful thing it is.”