I Used to be Nonverbal. 16 Years Later, I Was a Varsity Basketball Captain.

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One of the first role models I had in my life was Magic Johnson. As early as 3, 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.

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Kerry as a teen.

As a kid I had significant challenges 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 were less known, decided to take my love of watching basketball and try to turn it into a love for playing as well.

When I was 8 playing pee wee basketball, I found out right away that basketball — and 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 looked up to.

I’d run to the three-point line while I was practicing some days, and as soon as I got the shot I would scream “MAGIC!” at the top of my lungs. Sure, 99 percent of those shots didn’t go in, but I found out rather quickly that I loved playing the game.

In grammar school, my opportunities to play were limited 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 junior varsity and varsity team! I was ready.

I was going to be the Magic Johnson of our JV team, I thought to myself. Then tryouts 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 high school ball was defeated.

That defeat, though, made me think back to Magic Johnson and everything he has been able to overcome in his life. I told myself in the mirror the following day that I was going to come back and make it.

Fast forward one summer, and JV tryouts were happening once again. This time I was 60 pounds lighter and had grown three inches. I had participated in basketball camps almost every day that summer while working on my gross motor skills at my occupational therapist’s office. I was beyond nervous. Would this be different than last time?

Luckily for me, thanks to my progress, making several basketballs during the tryout and pushing my body to the limit, I got 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. I feel 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 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 Autismwhich is an initiative to bring autism awareness to college basketball. Now in its third year, I’ve been so happy to see two of my favorite passions — autism awareness and basketball — come together to make a difference for our community.

A version of this post for appeared on KerryMagro.com.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share a conversation you’ve had that changed the way you think about disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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How My Autism is an Advantage

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Hello everyone, I’m back with a new video for you. Today, I want to talk about how my autism gave me an advantage in my life. What’s one time autism has been an advantage in your life? Share in the comments below!

If you have any ideas for videos you’d like to see, please contact me at [email protected].

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There’s Nothing Wrong With Autism

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I have autism. My brain is wired differently than the neurotypical brain, but I live in a world created by neurotypicals. I need support to deal with the sensory issues that arise in non-controlled environments. I work from home to circumvent both social and sensory differences.

But I can also solve problems better than the hundreds of people I work with because of my wiring. I’m the one they come to for help. I can see the forest as well as the trees. I can make connections where others cannot. I can understand complex processes in minutes whereas it takes others weeks or months.

Autism versus neurotypical. Blue eyes versus brown eyes. Either give us support to live in the neurotypical world and reap the benefits of our differences, or focus on making us conform and get nothing since all our energy will be focused on being like you instead of being ourselves. Your choice: support differences or conformity. We only have so much energy to spend each day, so you have to pick one.

Before you decide, what makes you happier? Being yourself, or being what others want you to be? I think the world would be a much better place if everyone, autism spectrum and neurotypical, could just be themselves.

There’s nothing wrong with autism, but people’s perception that everyone should be shoehorned into the same societal role has to change before the world can realize that.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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U.K. Releases Card to Protect Autistic People Against Hate Crimes

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The U.K. is making an effort to protect autistic people from hate crimes.

The Bedfordshire Police teamed up with a disability advocacy group called Pohwer to release “hate crime cards” to 1) make it easier for people with autism to report hate crimes and 2) serve to recognize the social and communication difficulties associated with autism and the importance of improving communication between the autism community and police officers, according to a press release.

Autistic people designed the cards, which began rolling out across the U.K. on Friday as part of Bedfordshire’s Hate Crime Week of Action.

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People with disabilities are victimized at much higher rates than the rest of the population, according to Victimsofcrime.org. A hate crime, however, is defined as a crime where the motivation is the offender’s bias against victims of a particular group.

 Between 2004 and 2012, victims in the U.S. identified disability as the perceived offender motivation in hate crimes 11 percent of the time, down from 22 percent in 2011.

In the U.K., a person with autism can now show the “hate crime card” to the demonstrate he or she needs help either reporting a crime or communicating. It’s the size of a credit card and contains contact information for the police department.

“We continue to seek ways to deliver services to our communities with diverse needs. It is important that vulnerable people in our county know about hate crime and that being targeted is wrong,” Bedforshire Chief Inspector Gayner Coulson said in the press release. “Hate crime remains underreported and we are working hard with partners to tackle prejudice and crime against someone with a disability in our county.”

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Mother Outraged After Officer Handcuffs 7-Year-Old Son With Autism

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A mother is outraged after her 7-year-old son was handcuffed and detained at his elementary school.

Sande Bard-Butler says her son, Allen, who has autism and a traumatic brain injury, was handcuffed by a school resource officer at Calusa Elementary School in Boca Raton, Florida, who then tried to to involuntarily commit him at a mental health hospital, 10News WTSP reported.

Allen, who can be aggressive when triggered, according to his mother, had a meltdown where he lashed out at his special needs teacher, raising a pencil as if to stab her. That’s when the resource officer handcuffed him and tried to commit him to North Bay Recovery Center in Lutz, Florida, but a doctor there refused to admit him.

“Allen can get triggered and upset and be very aggressive, but if you handle it in the right way, it can be de-escalated very quickly,” Butler told 10News WTSP. “They put him on his stomach on the floor and put handcuffs behind his back.  I’m frustrated, and angry, very angry.”

Bard-Butler posted photos on Facebook of her son’s wrists after he had the handcuffs taken off.

I am so disgusted with the school system here. Allen says a child stepped on his lunch today so the teacher threw it…

Posted by Sande Bard-Butler on Thursday, January 28, 2016

 

The Pasco Sheriff’s Office told the outlet that under state law, deputies can be handcuff or zip tie anyone, no matter their age. Butler has hired attorney Nicolette Nicoletti to deal with the district and sheriff’s office. She plans to sue.

Nicoletti says that the case is currently being investigated at the school board and sherriff’s office.

“The allegations being set forth are extremely serious and we are doing everything we can to make sure no child suffers the way that Allen has again,” Nicoletti told The Mighty.

Get more on the story from the video below:

The Mighty reached out to both the school district and the sheriff’s office for comment but have yet to hear back. 

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To Myself on the Day of My Son’s Autism Diagnosis: Here’s What You Won’t Hear

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Dear Sazini,

I know you thought today’s visit to the hospital would be quick and easy, simply a matter of picking up the piece of paper that confirms what you already know. You accepted Ethan’s diagnosis of autism several months ago. However, after you receive the official diagnosis, so many questions come flooding at you as you wait for the psychiatrist to finish the call he took on his flip-phone.

Will Ethan ever talk?

Will the meltdowns stop? When?

How will you choose from all the available therapies? There are so many!

Will you be able to handle everything without your family close by?

You have a long road ahead of you, and I want to tell you something you won’t hear for a while and that will take you several years to accept: You have to prioritize taking care of yourself. I hear your arguments: right now you have to focus on Ethan, he needs early intervention. Between work, reading about autism until the wee hours and everyday household duties, your name barely makes the list!

Here’s the thing: When you eat well, get enough sleep and exercise, Ethan will benefit. You will be a better mom when you are not exhausted and your mind isn’t foggy. I’m telling you this to save you from waking up in three years’ time with excruciating pain because your neck and shoulders have locked in place from carrying all that tension. (And by the way, please use that gift certificate to the spa. Your guilt about using it is irrational.)

All the talk on the importance of early intervention makes you feel like you have to grab it all, do it all, for fear that you might leave out the essential therapy that will help Ethan. It’s true that early intervention will be helpful for you and Ethan, but it’s OK to take your time choosing between therapies and therapists. Not all of them are a good match. Trust your instincts; you know more than you give yourself credit for. One day, you will grab Ethan and walk out of an evaluation with a therapist because you’ll know it’s just not going to work out. After that, you will learn to interview potential therapists, and eventually, you are going to build a great team of professionals who work with you and inspire you. You will call them the “A-Team.”

There’s one more thing you need to know: You are now a “waiter on lists.” There will be a list to get a social worker, for the special needs school, for the social skills group, and on and on. You will also wait for almost two years for the early intensive behavior intervention therapy provided by the government. You will feel angry, frustrated, abandoned, sad and disempowered on that waiting list. But those months of feeling forgotten on a waiting list will inspire you to help other parents.

I know that right now you feel like you are in free-fall. As unfathomable as it seems, you are going to land on your feet. You will be happy and feel in control. You will meet many people who will need no explanations — they will just “get” you. They will become part of your community. They will be on their own journeys, but you will find strength in each other, laugh and cry together.

Ethan will make tremendous progress and start to feel more comfortable in his own skin.

He will learn to talk.

He will sleep through the night.

He will overcome many sensory challenges

And yes, there will be days, then weeks and even months without a single meltdown.

Remember to hold on to the good times with Ethan, because there will be many. Your life will be filled with joy, love and a dash of adventure.

Knowledge and acceptance of people with autism continues to grow, and we really have no idea what the future holds. Help Ethan discover his calling so he can live a happy, fulfilled life.

woman holding her son
Sazini and her son.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to yourself on the day of the diagnosis. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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