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The Experience of a Lifetime

This guest post is by Anthony Ianni, a young adult on the spectrum from Michigan.

Being a motivational speaker, I love to tell people about my past experiences dealing with the challenges of overcoming obstacles and becoming the first known person with autism to play college basketball. I’m currently in the midst of an initiative in Michigan where I have pledged to visit 659 schools throughout the state in one school year. I’m so proud to be able to share my message with kids across the state and the country.

But all of this didn’t happen overnight. I was told at age five by doctors and specialists that I would barely graduate high school, wouldn’t go to college, and wouldn’t be a skilled athlete because I had autism. My college experience as a student-athlete dealing with autism is one that I wouldn’t have traded for anything. Throughout my life, I had difficulties in school because of the way I struggled with words, nouns, verbs, idioms, and even sarcasm.  So my biggest concern when I got to college was how I would do in the classroom and where I would get the help I needed. I had a great deal of resources that were available to me and I took advantage of them right away because I was determined to graduate and get my degree. The test accommodations I had were for extended time on tests, a reader, and a separate room to take my tests in. Because of these accommodations I was able to be a better test taker than I was in my early school years. I also had tutors that really helped me a lot when it came to the different class subjects I had to take during my time at Michigan State University.

The Student Athlete Support Services (SASS) at MSU were a great help for me. They provided me tutoring services and also held weekly progress meetings to see how I was doing in class. The services I had at MSU were one of the reasons why I was able to graduate from one of the toughest universities in the state of Michigan.

The second part of my college experience was being an athlete. I was blessed to be able to play for the best basketball program in the country and the best coach in college basketball today in Coach Tom Izzo.  I walked on the team for two years until my senior year when my dream and goal was realized. Coach Izzo awarded me a full ride scholarship my senior year. I was so happy to see what all of my hard work did for me. I always like to share my father’s quote that he gave me as a kid with every person I speak to around the state and country: “The harder you work, the more you earn.” This quote inspired me to become the person I am today. I had to work hard for everything I’ve earned in my life and every day in practice because I was the leader/captain of our scout team. We had to be at practice an hour before and after to learn every play that our opponents ran.

I went to battle with my teammates every day with the goal of making them better. But off the court, all of those guys are my brothers and Spartan Family.  They knew what I was dealing with all my life. They helped me a lot and they also helped me grow a lot as a person as well. I mentioned earlier how sarcasm was one thing I really struggle with. Being on a team of guys who were the kings of sarcasm, it was difficult at times to understand things. If I couldn’t tell if somebody was joking or being serious, my teammates would either tell me or pull me aside and explain to me what they were talking about or if somebody was joking or not. I love my teammates and still keep in touch with them today. Keep in mind a lot of those guys are either in the NBA or playing professional basketball overseas.

My college experience is again something I wouldn’t trade for the world. The support services and help I got were one of the main reasons why I was able to be successful in college. However, it was the great support and help I got from my coaches and teammates that helped me strive towards success at Michigan State. All of this is why I never gave up on my dream of being a college athlete despite having autism and overcoming huge challenges and obstacles. More importantly though, I’m proud of being a MSU alum and I am very proud to say I’m a Spartan for life. 

If you are interested in learning more about Anthony’s tour please visit his website at

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.