Former MSU Player On Speaking Tour to Increase Autism Awareness

New this morning, one in fifty kids in America has autism. That rate is even higher among boys, but there are people in Mid-Michigan trying to bring awareness to the disorder. We meet one of those people in part one of our two part series on autism in michigan. WILX Amanda Malkowski met with an Okemos man who has beat the odds and is now speaking in schools around the county. Anthony Ianni played for Michigan State from 2009-2012. Anthony is on the autism spectrum, and doctors told his family that he would probably never achieve much. But anthony proved them wrong with a stunning basketball career and a college degree. and now he wants other kids to know that they can do it too.

As anthony Ianni and I stood on the court at his alma mater, Okemos High School, he couldn't help but beam with pride.

"It brings back so many memories. It doesn't take the smile off my face," said Anthony Ianni.

High school was good for Anthony. His basketball career took off by the time he was a sophomore. But his earlier years, well, they weren't as easy. It's hard to believe it now, standing next to all six foot nine of him, but Anthony endured intense bullying in elementary and middle school. Anthony is on the autism spectrum, and kids took advantage of the fact that he didn't understand sarcasm or always know when he was being teased.

"A lot of name calling because I was bigger than everybody else. I had kids who always made fun of me just because of the way I thought and the way I said things. That's just how my leaning disability is. That's just how me being on the spectrum is," said Ianni.

But though the bullying grew worse during the middle school years, Anthony's dream grew too. He wanted to play at Michigan State. but doctor's doubted his potential.

"The doctors would just say, you're going to have to have a very structured life. We really don't know what the future holds for him... if he does accomplish some things that would be great," said Jamie Ianni, Anthony's Mom.

And accomplish he did. With the support of his family, friends and the Mid-Michigan community, Anthony went to Michigan State, played on two big 10 championship teams and graduated in 2012. And now, Anthony says it's time to give back. He's an inspirational speaker, and he has already talked to thousands of kids, parents and educators about autism and bullying.

"My son has autism, and I know once Anthony spoke at Dewitt Public Schools four different times, it brought even more support to me, which meant a lot. Because a lot of people might know Erin has autism but they didn't understand it. And I think after the kids heard Anthony they were extremely motivated to be a friend to him,"
said Lisa Grost, the Autism Program Coordinator MDCH

And Anthony is motivated to touch the lives of more parents and kids with his message.

"Know that there's hope and inspiration everywhere you go, every step you take in life," said Ianni.

Anthony has already spoken at hundreds of schools not only in Michigan but around the country. He has more dates set up in cities from North Carolina to Florida. Later this week we'll have part two of our series on autism. We'll learn about a group training first responders in how to approach kids with autism, on News 10 Today.

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