Meet Erin M.
Erin M., 33
Basketball is my safe space. When I was young, playing basketball gave me a way to make friends and a place to be confident. It motivated me in other aspects of my life, academically, socially, emotionally, mentally and physically.
For Erin, basketball is life. From the age of 10, the feel of the ball in her hand was a comforting old friend even in the most intense games—the court her home, a safe space where she could relax and just be herself. When her dream of playing professionally came to a halt after multiple knee injuries in college, finding a way to stay connected to the game she loves became her sole goal.
Although she never thought about a career off the court, sometimes life has a funny way of working out when you put in the work. Today, Erin, who was diagnosed with autism at 22, is living out her wildest dreams as a basketball operations assistant for the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies.
“Growing up, I never imagined that I could make a career out of basketball. I think if I could have seen the future, I would be awe struck. Once I figured out that it was possible to make a career out of basketball and video breakdown, I was convinced that was what I wanted to do. I knew I would do anything to give myself a chance at that career.”
Erin’s dreams became a reality and today she’s putting her skills to work in a city she loves, with colleagues who have taken the time to get to know her and for an organization who respects the style in which she gets her job done. Being able to watch game film in solitude and put her unique skills to the test in a professional capacity has been nothing short of a basketball and a foul for this former college hooper.
“Part of my job responsibilities with the Grizzlies are to follow the same workflow for each of the 82 games our team plays in an NBA regular season. I love that I can do the same thing over and over again. Once I get started breaking down a game, I tend to lose sense of time and just let muscle memory take over. Repetition is soothing to me, and parts of my job require that repetition, which works well for me.”
Erin’s blossoming career in the sport she loves didn’t happen by accident. It’s taken a lifetime of personal development, honest self-evaluation of her strengths and weaknesses and countless hours of various therapies to get to this point in her life. It’s been the work of a person who had a dream and was willing to put in the work to make that dream a reality even though she faced a few setbacks along the way.
Read more about Erin’s path to finding balance in her life and learn how our Autism Response Team can connect you with tools and resources:
When did you first realize you were autistic? How did you process that information?
When I was growing up, I knew things were hard for me, but I did not realize that was a different experience than that of most others. I thought what I was experiencing was normal. As I got into middle school and high school, I started to notice differences in how I interacted with people compared to my peers. An example is that eye contact has always been uncomfortable for me.
Some people told me I was just being lazy and undisciplined and eventually I bought into that. I did not have the words to express what I was feeling or what was going on in my brain and body. When I was 22, I moved away from home for the first time and my new doctor immediately said that I was autistic. I began to read more about autism, especially content written by other autistic people. I read about their experiences, and they gave me the words to recognize what I was going through.
What services and supports have you received since being diagnosed? How have they help you?
- Occupational therapy – helped with creating sensory diet and troubleshooting issues like finding clothes too itchy or coming up with creative coping skills.
- Group therapy – we work on social skills and communicating with other people, as well as things like goal setting and self-improvement.
- Individual therapy – coping skills, troubleshooting, processing events and conversations.
- Behavioral therapy – help to overcome negative behaviors and to replace problematic behaviors with more positive/less harmful ones.
- Job coaching – help to work through situations at work like communicating with coworkers, misunderstandings, reasonable accommodations and general support for getting all my tasks done.
- Help with going out in the community – we practiced going to restaurants and ordering, going to the grocery store and doing fun things like going to the movies.
If you’re an adult looking for more information about next steps after an autism diagnosis or simply looking for ways to better cope with some of the challenges you may face during your every-day-life, Autism Speaks has got you covered.
Our Autism Response Team is an information and referral support for the autism community. Our team members are Certified Resource Specialists through Inform USA and are specially trained to provide personalized information and resources to autistic individuals, families, service providers, and the community.
Here are just two of the adult-centric resources courtesy of ART you might find helpful:
- Adult Autism Diagnosis Tool Kit: A guide for identifying autism in adults and figuring out what comes next
- Roadmap to Self-Empowerment for Autistic Adults: Find questions to ask yourself to help establish the supports you need in your everyday life across a variety of settings and roles
Why is being an autism advocate important to you?
Because there is still so much ignorance in the world. Regardless of someone’s strengths, weaknesses or where they land on the spectrum, we are all valuable and worthy. I think if you have the chance to educate people, so they see the value of other people and become more inclusive, you have a responsibility to do so. It is not easy or comfortable for me to put myself out there and advocate, but if I can make someone’s life easier or better, my discomfort is worth it.
The point I want to share is not necessarily that I have a career and I live independently, but more so that I have had and still have lots of help and support and love in my life, and I think every autistic person deserves that.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud that I have continued to grow in all aspects of life. I am really proud of where I am and who I am, but I also recognize that I am not finished growing. There is more work to be done and lots more room to grow.