Autism Workshop Educates And Inspires
TOWSON, Md. – Ryan Permison already knew.
That’s the only way to conclude why he used the word “Tiger-riffic” in his opening remarks during Towson University’s astonishing and uplifting Diversity Awareness Workshop: Focus on Autism Monday afternoon in the West Village Ballrooms.
In the spirit of collegiality, Towson University’s Department of Athletics, in conjunction with the College of Liberal Arts and the Office of Disability Services made the special afternoon possible.
“My overall impression of the event is that it was wonderful,” said Trish Kane of Pathfinders Autism who moderated the panel discussion. “The tremendous turnout by Towson University’s students and professors is testimony to the awareness and acceptance of individuals with Autism on the Towson campus. I feel hopeful that the audience heard the coaches’ stories and walked away with some tips and strategies to interact, engage and support individuals with Autism.
“It was very nice to partner with so many departments at Towson University. Everyone came together for this great cause. I hope that they will continue to offer a similar program to keep the conversation moving forward and know that we, at Pathfinders for Autism, will be there to support their efforts.”
The awesome event featured a powerful one-hour panel discussion with Towson University head coaches Pat Skerry (men’s basketball), Diane Richardson (women’s basketball), and Don Metil (volleyball).
That impactful panel served as the appetizer for the main course, which was an inspirational speech from former Michigan State men’s basketball Anthony Ianni, who was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, which is an Autism Spectrum Disorder, when he was 4 years old.
By the time Ianni concluded his presentation, there were several moist eyes among the standing room only attendees that absorbed every word like a sponge. A fountain of inspiration, Ianni shared his three keys to success of motivation, hard work and support with the audience that included student-athletes, Towson students, campus administrators, and members of the Towson community.
“Listening to everybody today taught me to be grateful for everything I have and to treat people equally no matter their disabilities,” Towson senior women’s basketball player Raine Bankston said. “(Ianni’s) message made me look at my life. I should appreciate everything I have with my teammates, coaches, and family. They’re a big support system for me.”
Before the 6-foot, 9-inch Ianni took the stage, the audience received a first-hand glimpse into the everyday challenges of raising kids on the autism spectrum. Skerry, Richardson, and Metil, who all have kids on the autism spectrum, were open as they shared stories and milestones of their kids. Everybody also gained a unique understanding of how different each person on the autism spectrum is.
They departed the event with tips and strategies on how to interact with someone on the spectrum, engage with them socially, support their sensory needs and understand their behaviors.
The audience learned that sometimes, it could take someone with communication and language processing on average 20 seconds to hear what the person is saying, process it, and respond. In addition, the audience was taught that there’s more than one way to present information and they were made aware that sometimes a person need to say it, show it, and/or model it.
“The spectrum is so wide that you have to make sure you don’t jump to conclusions,” Metil said during his presentation. “You don’t know that the person on the spectrum. Educating and having sessions like this does a world of good.”
Ianni was bothered by loud noises and hated fire drills. He shared that he had a tough time taking tests in a room full of people, understanding nouns, verbs, and idioms. If somebody had told him it was raining cats and dogs outside when he was 5 years old, Ianni would have literally walked out that door hoping a cat or a dog would fall from the sky.
As the first NCAA Division I basketball player diagnosed with autism, Ianni played for Michigan State under legendary coach Tom Izzo and with current Golden State Warrior standout Draymond Green, Ianni shared with the audience that he overcame challenges and obstacles that were bigger than his size 18 shoes.
After sharing an amazing story of how Izzo saved his life and got him back on track following the murder of his uncle, Ianni wrapped up is session with some more advice centered around principles that helped him battle through his tough times – hope and inspiration.
“Live your dreams and accomplish every goal you’re going to have in life,” he shared. “Be relentless and attack them. There’s 3.5 million people with autism. I put them on my back every day because the ASD community needs a voice. You can’t be afraid to fail or of failure in life. It will eat at you. Do you what you want to do in life. Make an impact and leave an impact.”
The program left an impression on Towson’s student-athletes.
“It was very inspirational,” Towson senior men’s golfer William Bachelor said. “Anthony sharing his life was eye-opening. I took away a lot of things that I can do better day in and day out. The first part of the presentation was eye-opening as well especially learning about autism and how it affects different people in different ways and how we can help people with it or involved with it. I took a lot good stuff away. I am motivated to create a positive atmosphere inside and outside of Towson. I felt very privileged to be a part of this event and I am glad Towson hosted a program of this magnitude and importance on its campus.”