One of the first role models I had in my life was Magic Johnson. As early as three I can remember watching him play with the Lakers and being completely transfixed by his play-making ability. People like Magic fascinated me and developed my interest in basketball.
Today I can say basketball has helped me progress as a person on the autism spectrum.
I had huge challenges as a kid with social interaction, communication and gross motor skill delays. My parents, who I’ve always praised for helping create the wheel for me when services for autism really weren’t that well-known, decided to take my love of watching basketball and try to turn it into a love for playing it as well.
When I was eight playing peewee basketball I found out right away that basketball, let alone any sport would be an uphill battle. Both my hand-eye coordination and my issues with balance kept me limited in my abilities to perform on the court. What kept me motivated though was envisioning myself doing the moves of other basketball players I look up to.
I’d run to the three-point line while I was practicing some days and as soon as I got the shot off I would scream “MAGIC!” at the top of my lungs. Sure, 99% of those shots didn’t go in but I found out rather quickly that I loved playing the game.
In grammar school I was limited to the amount of opportunities I could play because my school didn’t have a basketball team. Once I got into a high school for students with learning disabilities I found out that we had both a JV and Varsity team! I was ready.
“I was going to be the Magic Johnson of our JV team,” I thought to myself. Then try outs came. I was a 5’10, 230 pound kid wanting to play point guard while the rest of the kids were around 5’4-5’6. Within the first two sprints of the practice I was already on the sideline out of breathe. Not exactly the MVP performance I was envisioning right off the bat. Three days later I would find out I didn’t make the team and my goal of playing HS ball was defeated.
That defeat though made me think back to Magic Johnson, and everything he has been able to overcome in his life from having diff. I told myself in the mirror the following day after hearing that devastating news that I was going to come back and make it.
Fast-forward one-summer and JV try-outs were happening once again. This time though I was 60 pounds lighter and had grew 3 inches. I had participated in basketball camps almost every day that summer while working on my gross motor skills at my OT’s office. I was beyond nervous. Would this be different than last time?
And luckily for me, thanks to my progress, making several shots during the try-out and putting my body on the line I was selected to get a coveted spot on the JV-team! I made it. Two years later as a senior after continuing to work on my craft I was selected as Varsity captain and had made some of my first friends ever.
Looking back, this passion for sports is what I advocate for when I talk to families now. There are so many benefits to sports! I was able to become very good with my hands because of basketball and overcome many of my motor challenges. I was also able to find my niche when it comes to social interaction. The advice I’d give to other families out there is to give sports a try with their loved ones! The results I’ve seen are amazing. Even if it’s not sports, find that niche that they love and help them pursue it everyday.
As for my future with sports I am now a huge college basketball and NBA fan. I love watching my alma mater the Seton Hall Pirates play and also my Los Angeles Lakers. I’m also a huge fan of Coaches Powering Forward for Autism, which is an initiative to bring autism awareness to college basketball. Now in it’s third-year I’ve been so happy to see two of my favorite passions come together, autism awareness and basketball, to make a difference for our community.
Hope you all will tune-in for #AutismHoops! 🙂