As more individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder enter the media spotlight to better educate people about their condition, a growing number of sports celebrities have come forward about their disability and life experiences.
Five Diagnosed With Autism
The disorder often affects a person’s ability to communicate and perform various tasks that others may find trivial. However, some have not only managed to live a perfectly normal life but to thrive and excel in certain activities, such as sports. Of these, there are five sports celebrities, in particular, that overcame all odds and have become living proof that nothing can truly limit human potential.
Considered to be one of the most well-known faces of autism in sports, Marzo was formally diagnosed with ASD at the age of 18. His condition made communicating with others a challenge, however, he was extremely proficient on a surfboard.
From a young age, Marzo had difficulties holding a conversation, maintaining eye contact, and building relationships. He had a fixation with being in the water, which fueled his passion for surfing and swimming. He is now considered one of the most famous surfers with ASD in the world and has turned his obsession with this sport into a thriving career.
Eisenreich played for the Minnesota Twins in 1982, as one of their Major League Baseball stars, however, he decided to withdraw from the MLB due to a combination of uncontrollable tics from Tourette’s Syndrome and an Asperger’s diagnosis.
Despite these setbacks, Eisenreich sought help that would allow him to pursue his love of baseball again and resume his career. Thanks to medication and specialist help he got back in the game in 1986 and spent the next three years winning the Kansas City Royals Player of the Year and building a successful career.
Jessica-Jane Applegate, now 24, won 24 gold medals by the time she was 18. The Paralympic swimmer holds 11 British records and one world record for the 100-meter butterfly event.
Jessica-Jane was diagnosed with Asperger’s at a young age, but that did not discourage her from pursuing her passion for swimming. She had already set multiple regional records by the age of 13 and qualified for a UK sporting talent program a few years later. She soon set the second-fastest world record for the 200-meter freestyle event.
Anthony Ianni was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder at the age of 4 and doctors expected that he would barely be able to graduate high school. Despite the diagnosis and with professional support, he overcame all the challenges he encountered. Ianni finished high school and was admitted to Michigan State University where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology.
He is the first individual with autism to play NCAA Division One College Basketball, but his achievements do not stop here. Anthony also won two Big Ten Championships, a Big Ten Tournament Title, and is now an autism advocate and motivational speaker.
Tarik El-Abour won the Empire League’s Rookie of the Year title in 2016, after batting .323 in 122 plate appearances, and a championship with the Plattsburgh Red Birds in 2017. Soon after that, he was signed for the Kansas City Royals, becoming the first pro baseball player with ASD.
Despite the success El-Abour had in his life, his childhood was difficult. He did not speak until the age of six and once he did, he’d hit his leg every time he tried to pronounce a word.
Tarik was diagnosed with autism during his final year of middle school, however, that did not discourage him. He started playing baseball at age 10 and he soon developed a passion for the sport.
Overcoming The Odds
These individuals have shown that being on the autism spectrum does not represent an uncrossable barrier. With specialized help, willpower, and a dream, they have overcome all odds. Clinics like the Nevada Autism Center led by Chantal Rainford, BCBA, focus on helping those diagnosed with autism better adjust to their environment and enabling them to live a full, functional life.