SPORTS AND AUTISM
Parents with children who have autism often wonder if getting their kid involved in sports is a good idea. Sports provide physical exercise which is good for the body and mind, and also can teach cooperation, dedication, and leadership skills. However sports can be challenging for kids with autism because of sensory sensitivity, social communication difficulties, and problems with coordination. The truth is there are solutions, compromises, and ways to overcome these obstacles. For instance, if social communication is your concern there are team and non-team sports that are not dependent on high levels of communication such as track & field, martial arts, and horseback riding. It is also possible for people with autism to become successful athletes in team sports like basketball and soccer as well. With supportive teammates and coaches and enough training, teams can develop effective ways to communicate and the athlete can develop the skills needed to excel in the sport. There are many skilled athletes with autism who have not only competed but excelled in team and non-team sports.
Here are examples of athletes with autism who became some of the best competitors in their sport.
Clay Marzo is a surfer who was raised in Maui, Hawaii and was formally diagnosed with asperger’s at age 18. Marzo’s has had remarkable accomplishments throughout the surfing community, including becoming the National Scholastic Surfing Association National Champion in 2005, an X Games gold medalist in 2007, and the top finisher at the World Qualifying Series in 2009. Marzo has also wrote a book titled Just Add Water: A Surfing Savant’s Journey with Asperger’s that was published in 2015. In an interview he said “I hope the book will help other people who are similar to me, and if not them, then to their families so they can get a better understanding of what it can be like.” Marzo’s friends and peers find his straightforwardness refreshing and his surfing abilities insurmountable. He continues to pave the way for both professional surfers and people with autism.
Anthony Ianni was diagnosed with autism at the age of 4. According to his doctors it was unlikely that Anthony would graduate high school and would probably never be able to live independently. He was bullied in school growing up as well but his family was determined to help him be successful and overcome his challenges. Anthony’s parents were both athletes and supported his desire to play basketball competitively. Playing for Michigan State University under coach Tom Izzo, Anthony Ianni became the first division 1 college basketball player with autism. He won two Big Ten Championships, a Big Ten Tournament Title and was the recipient of the 2011 Tim Bograkos Walk On Award. He graduated from Michigan State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and now is one of the most sought after motivational speakers addressing bullying, perseverance, and autism awareness.
Armani was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder when he was two-years-old. He was considered nonverbal and had trouble processing different stimuli simultaneously. Armani Williams is the first NASCAR driver that is openly diagnosed with autism. He realized his passion for racing first driving go-karts but then advanced to bandalero-type vehicles and then late models. He has competed in the ARCA Truck Pro Series and the NASCAR Driver for Diversity Combine, for which he is expected to return in 2018. Currently Armani has 18 wins, 2 championships, and a very bright racing career ahead of him. Armani is also a philanthropist who, with the help of his family established the Race4Autism Foundation in 2015. The Race4Autism Foundation aims to enrich the lives of people and families affected by autism spectrum disorder through solution-based opportunities and raising awareness of autism.
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