This guest Q&A post is by autism advocate and national motivational speaker Anthony Ianni. He is also the first-ever individual with autism to ever play Division I Basketball for Coach Tom Izzo at Michigan State.
Kerry: Hey Anthony! When did you first know you wanted to be an advocate for those with special needs?
Anthony: I knew I wanted to be an advocate after I gave a keynote speech at an Autism Event in Detroit just a couple of weeks before I graduated from Michigan State. At first, I was struggling to figure out what I wanted to do after college, and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley basically started my career for me and offered me the keynote spot at the event. After the event I was driving my wife home and I told her that this was my calling card and where I was needed most. I love representing the autism community every day and everywhere I go and bringing my message of hope and inspiration to all.
What thoughts were running in your head when your Michigan State Spartans won the Big Ten Championship a few years back?
It was crazy because when I was a kid I always dreamed of winning a Big Ten Championship and playing at a Final Four. But for it to become a reality was just a dream come true and a blessing for me and my teammates. Now every time I go back to our arena, the Breslin Center, and look up in the rafters and see our Big Ten Championship banners for 2010 and 2012 it brings back memories for me and it also tells me that I was a part of MSU Program History.
Many students with autism have to advocate to have their accommodations met in school. Was this ever an issue for you growing up?
It never was an issue for me because I was taught by my academic coordinator to “Utilize your resources”. What he was saying to me was if you utilize every resource that’s offered to you such as tutors, test accommodations, etc. you WILL graduate in 4 years and it will also prepare you to advocate for yourself after college as well. So just that little bit of advice at the beginning of my college life really helped me advocate for myself in college and helped me even more prepare for the real world.
Bullying is a big issue in our schools. What are some ways our community can go about preventing this from happening?
Some ways that we can prevent bullying from happening are making changes. I tell schools all the time that only they can be the change, not me, not the governments, not the President, but them. A lot of students that have come up to me after have said to me that they want to start more anti-bullying committees in their schools and to bring more autism and anti-bullying awareness in their schools as well. So after I finish speaking at the school I can already see changes being taking place right in front of me. So the students and teachers are getting the message and taking a stand against bullying.
Looking back, who has been one of your biggest influences to get you to where you are today?
That’s a tough one because throughout my life I’ve had so many heroes and influences, but at the end of the day my biggest influence to help me get to where I am today is my father Greg. My dad is one of the hardest working people I know and I get my hard working mentality from both him and my mom. My dad always believed in me no matter what I did in life, whether it was speaking or basketball he always believed in me. He always taught me right from wrong and helped me become the man I am today. He tells people all the time that his two heroes he has in his life are his late father and me. Every time he tells people that I get really emotional, but my father is my hero and I’m proud to tell people that every day!
Any final thoughts you’d like to share with our readers?
My final thoughts for the readers are if you have a dream in your life, go for it. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do something, because there’s only one person stopping you from living your dreams and that person is you. I was told at 5 years old that because I have Autism I wasn’t going to be successful in my life, but I wasn’t going to let some doctors or professionals determine my future…I was going to determine my future and we all should as well. I’m proud to say I’m a Michigan State Spartan for life, I’m a husband, a father and I have autism. I’m proud to say that every day and our community should be proud to say it every day too. So go out and live your dreams because at the end of the day we don’t dream our lives, we live them!