I have autism – Your doubt was my motivation

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To: The people who thought autism meant I could not succeed,

From: Anthony Ianni

Charity: Northeast Ohio Autism Group

Sponsor: Nanna Frimpong is donating $25 to Northeast Ohio Autism Group in honor of the first 25 shares of Anthony's story

To the people who thought Autism meant I couldn’t succeed,

Before high school, my parents sat me down in the living room and told me I had autism. I didn’t even know what autism was at the time. But that’s when I learned about some of you, my earliest doubters.

Back in 1993, my parents noticed that the stimulation from sporting events at arenas overwhelmed me. From the noise of the crowds to the buzz of the scoreboard, it was too much for me.

You diagnosed me with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, which is on the autism spectrum. I was only five years old and you, a group of doctors, told my parents that I wouldn’t be much in life.  You told my family that I would barely graduate high school, I would never go to college, I would never be an athlete and I would one day end up in a group institution.

Anthony was diagnosed with autism at five years old

When my parents told me what you said, I just sat there in shock. Who would say this about a five-year-old kid? Instead of learning more about autism, I focused on proving you wrong.

My parents set high expectations and taught me to work hard despite challenges. They used basketball as a metaphor for life, explaining that in practice I find ways to get through a two-mile run or make 10 shots in a row. In games, if I fall behind I don’t take my ball and head home.  And so, I applied that mentality to life and I developed this determined, never-quit attitude.

But you, the doctors, aren’t the only ones I am addressing in this letter, as you weren’t the only people who thought I couldn’t succeed.

In high school, I walked the hallways and found more of you. You were kids at school who told me I couldn’t play basketball. You said I was too slow and that I had no skills. At 6-6 in ninth grade, my height coupled with my autism made me an easy target for bullying. I often didn’t understand your sarcasm. You would make a joke just to spark an emotional response from me.

Frustrated and upset, I got in the gym every single day and worked and worked and worked. When my AAU coach, Anthony Stuckey, saw the time I was putting in, he decided to help.  He showed me different footwork and ways to improve my vertical jump.

Heading into my sophomore year he told me, “Every day you wake up, you look in that mirror and you just keep thinking to yourself, ‘Go and take somebody’s spot on varsity.’”

Instead of learning more about autism, I focused on proving you wrong.
Anthony was a star center at Okemos High School in Michigan

Before my sophomore season started, I was ranked the number one center in the entire state of Michigan. I not only earned your respect but also the respect of the entire community.  During my high school career, I helped get my team to a state championship final. But I wasn’t done there…

With the support of my parents and my teachers, I graduated high school and received a scholarship to play at Grand Valley State. After two years, I walked on to the basketball team at my dream school, Michigan State. When I got there, I met more of you, more of you doubters and haters.

My dad was the deputy athletic director at the school, so some of you said that I didn’t belong. You said I was only there because of my father.  Incredibly proud to be a Spartan, I was determined to prove myself.

At first, I did not tell my team that I was on the autism spectrum. Many of my teammates were very sarcastic, including former Spartan, Draymond Green. As I mentioned, I often don’t understand sarcasm. One day Draymond made a joke and drove me to a point where I got very upset. I wanted to knock his head off and I let him know.

Anthony played with the NBA’s Draymond Green

He said, “If you can’t take a joke, you shouldn’t be on the team – just go home.”

My strength and conditioning coach then told Draymond that I had autism.

The next day Draymond said, “First of all, kudos to you, because look how far you’ve gotten despite autism. Second of all, shame on you for not telling me. All of this could have been avoided.”

After that day, everything changed. If I didn’t understand a joke, I could go to Draymond or any of my teammates and ask them to explain it to me. On that day, my teammates became more than players on the same roster as me, but also allies in my quest to prove you doubters wrong.

Anthony graduated from Michigan State.

I  didn’t play a whole lot at Michigan State but through my work ethic, I made the program better. So much so, my senior year the school granted me a scholarship. And then a few months later, I received my college degree.

Everything all of you thought I could not do, I did.

Now, I am a motivational speaker and I have a wife and two young boys. Of all my accomplishments, my family is the one of which I am most proud. And you all will have helped me teach them important life lessons.

See, my mom once asked me if I forgive all of you – if I forgive the doctors that said I wouldn’t be able to graduate school or the peers that bullied me or the fans that didn’t think I belonged on the court.

I told her, I not only forgive you but I want to tell you, “Thank you.”

Thank you to the haters, doubters and non-believers.

Anthony is married with two young boys.

Thank you for motivating me to stay focused. Thank you for teaching me that winning isn’t always meeting a challenge, it’s having the courage to face it. And mostly thank you for giving me a journey that shows my children and others that the words from outsiders don’t dictate your journey. I am proof that it’s the heart and passion from within that will determine your life.

I am not even done yet,

Anthony Ianni


Written with Lauren Brill

About the author:

Anthony Ianni is a former Michigan State basketball player, who currently travels the country as motivational speaker. In his speeches he teaches children about bullying and perseverance.  He is on the autism spectrum.

About the sponsor and the charity:

Nanna Frimpong is donating $25 dollars to Northeast Ohio Autism Group in honor of the first 25 shares of Anthony’s letter. Northeast Ohio Autism Group is a charity that supports the autism community in Northeast Ohio.

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[…] enough, in the email was your letter to your late father, former NBA basketball star Anthony Mason, talking about your struggles after his death. You wrote […]

Sweet Lauren, I agree completely with the promise that Brian asked you to make. Frankly, it is the only way that I know to love; totally, completely, wholly and unconditionally. You deserve nothing less, nor does your future love.

Wow. What a truly moving and powerful story. We often take for granted the small gifts we give each other just by being present. I'm sad for the heartache. I'm glad you stayed and became. Who knows what little girl or boy will be attributing their life's purpose to some kindness you shared. Peace and Sunshine

You’re welcome Lauren looking forward to all the future stories :)

Thank you Tony. I appreciate all your support.

Thank you Tony. I appreciate all your support.

I’m sorry to hear about Brian but he was right you are too beautiful to not receive roses Lauren:)

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Thanks for this! So what movie set did you get on?

So nice Roger <3

Pat, Your letter touched me in a very profound way. It left me in tears in the middle of my work day. It made me want to share something with you. On a July morning in 2007 a police officer answered a 911 call I had made when my Mother went into cardiac arrest. Between that officer, my best friend and the fire fighters who showed up minutes later they were able to restart her heart, however at the hospital she passed away an hour later. At the end of his shift that officer stopped by my home to check on the situation and cried when I told him the unfortunate news I received only 4 hours prior. He tried to apologize to me. I looked at the anguish in his eyes and asked him directly what for? He described the ways he felt sorry. What I want to leave you with was my reply to him. I told him he had nothing to be sorry for because he answered the call in what was the darkest moment in my life. I told him that he was a hero regardless because it takes a special person to answer calls like that. You are a hero to people Pat. No one can ever take that away from you. I understand the process you're going through as I've been there myself and like you I still struggle with it when no one is looking. You aren't alone in this. I hope your healing process continues on and you can regain the happiness in this beautiful life. You'll always be a hero to those people, because you were there when the call came Best wishes Roger Chamberlain

Ruth, your letter moved me to tears. Once upon a time I was very closed off about the LGBT community but over a course of several years, I turned my fear into understanding and I actively stand with the community for their equal rights because it is the right thing to do.