An Arkansas teen with autism who was once told he would never walk or talk has defied the odds — and is now joining Kent State University’s basketball team.
Kalin Bennett, 18, of Little Rock, was recruited by the Ohio school earlier this month, and accepted Kent State’s offer to play starting next season. It was a history-making move: According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Bennett may be the first student-athlete with autism to sign a national letter of intent to play a team sport at the Division I level.
Bennett knows that feeling: Diagnosed with autism as a child, he was told during the evaluation that it was unlikely he would ever speak and walk, never mind play sports and have teammates who he considers to be his best friends.
“I used to be in the corner, like, I wouldn’t say nothing, I used to not like people at all,” he said. “I was always by myself, always alone.”
“When I got the diagnosis, I went to work, because I wasn’t going to just sit there and let him just fade away,” she said, adding that constantly reading books to Bennett and playing music for him helped him start talking.
“He’s overcome being nonverbal. He’s sociable now, he focuses on you, he talks to you, he’ll hug you.”
In addition to basketball, Bennett is also gifted in math and music. He plays four different instruments, with percussion being his favorite.
But other aspects of life have not always come as easily. Bennett has struggled with anxiety. Sometimes, small issues feel overwhelming to him, his mom said.
This year, Bennett is doing a gap-year program at Link Year Prep, a Christian academy in Branson, Mo. When he starts at Kent State, he will live on campus in a dorm — but his mom will live nearby.
“It already felt like home as soon as I touched campus,” he said.
Gina Campana, assistant director of diversity, equity and inclusion for Kent State, said the university offers many services for students with autism and is particularly proud of a partnering program it offers that matches such students with neurotypical students.
Autism Speaks, an advocacy organization, praised Bennett and Kent State.
“Kalin is likely not the first young person with autism to decide to play college sports. However, the public nature of his decision can have a really great impact on younger children with autism who may not have seen this as a path for them,” said Autism Speaks director of adult services, David Kearon, who works with schools and employers to create a smooth transition into adulthood for people with autism.
“I am hopeful that Kalin inspires others to consider paths like the one he’s taking, to go to a good school, and to participate in sports and all other aspects of campus life.”
“This is not a mentoring program where one is higher than the other. They’re equals, and they learn about each other,” Campana said.
I said, ‘can’t’ is not a word we’re going to use in this house. We will not use that word. That’s a bad word,” she said.
Her hopes are now higher than ever for her son.
“I want him to grow up to be just the best man he can be, and I think he’s headed that way: respect, honor. He’s humble. He loves God,” she said. “I couldn’t ask for a better kid.”
Original Article: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/kalin-bennett-arkansas-teen-autism-recruited-play-basketball-kent-state-n941631
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