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Calls to Action

My Back to School Experiences with Autism

This guest post is by Anthony Ianni, a national motivation speaker, as well as a national autism and anti-bully advocate. Anthony wrote for us earlier this year to discuss the impact of Autism Awareness Day in College Basketball on February 1st. Stay tuned for an even bigger year of Autism Hoops in 2015! This post is part of an initiative on our site called “In Our Own Words: Living on the Spectrum,” which highlights the experiences of individuals with autism from their perspectives. 

I have been able to share my experiences as the first NCAA athlete and college basketball player with autism at Michigan State University, but I’ve never gotten to share my experiences as a student in school. When I was younger in elementary school, I had a parapro (aka paraprofessional) by my side until I got to 6th grade in middle school. My parapro would help me in class with my work, reading or any questions that I had and more importantly, help me calm down, because as a younger student I had times where I would wig out. I had those moments because I couldn’t handle some loud noises such as fire drills or tornado drills. Sometimes, if I needed just 5 minutes to myself, he would take me out in the hallway to calm down. When I got to middle school, that transition of not having a parapro was very difficult, but luckily I was given a resource room class that I had every day until I graduated from high school. My resource room teachers helped me just liked my parapros did, but they also helped me transition from grade to grade. To this day, I still am close to my resource teachers because they started laying down the foundation for me in helping me become more organized and a better student.

In my life, I was never on my journey alone. I had a lot of great people who were in my corner and who followed me every step of the way. Support has always been a major thing for me to have in life, because without it, who knows where I’d be. I had a lot of support groups, but one of those groups was my teachers. I’m not afraid to admit I wasn’t the greatest student in the world. I never got straight A’s, I was a mixed grade student. I worked very hard in school, but every day was a different day that presented an even more difficult challenge. My teachers were the ones who taught me how to overcome those new challenges in school. I had teachers who were varsity coaches who spent 30-40 minutes of their own practice time to help me learn, study or review for a test. They wanted to be a part of something special, to be a part of history. They were and they still are a part of me to this day.

So here’s my advice to all you students out there: Whether you like a teachers or you don’t, you should still be the first one in the classroom every day to say hello to them. If you are struggling in class or you have a question, go to your teachers because they are the ones who will help you become a better and stronger student. More importantly, they will help you become a better individual. I know my teachers did.

In my school career, I had test accommodations, like extended time, a reader and a separate room to take my tests. When I was younger in middle school and early high school, I used these accommodations to my advantage every day. But when I got older, it became a different story. When I was a junior in high school, I wanted to start taking my tests in class, and when I did, I struggled. I did it because I wanted to do what the other students were doing. It wasn’t until I took my official visit to Grand Valley State University and met my future academic coordinator, Dr. Damon Arnold, that I realized how important it can be to use these resources. In our conversation, he told me his life story and all about what he had overcome. I was blown away by his story and where he is today. But there was one thing stood out to me the most during our talk. He told me, “In order for you to be successful your senior year at Okemos High and in college, you must always Utilize Your Resources.” Since that meeting, I have taken those words to heart. Those words helped me throughout my college career and helped me get to where I am today.

My last bit of advice for all students out there is more important than anything you’ll hear from me in this blog. Take Dr. Arnold's words to heart because utilizing your resources every day in school will help you go a long way. Some folks tell me that it’s impossible for a student with autism or a learning disability to graduate from high school or college. I always say in response, “Nothing is Impossible because the Impossible is Nothing.” As long as you use the resources given to you, you can be successful in school and you can graduate college in four years. More importantly, you will be great at what you do in life.

Remember “Utilize Your Resources!” If you have a dream and you put your mind to it, you can achieve that dream and be great at what you love to do. Be inspired and never give up on hope. Have a great school year everyone and I hope to speak at your schools sometime this year! 

Have a story you want to share for our “In Our Own Words: Living on the Spectrum,” series? Email us at InOurOwnWords@Autismspeaks.org.

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.