By: Jonathan Munshaw, Editor-in-Chief
While Head Men’s Basketball Coach Pat Skerry deals with five men on the basketball court at a time and is finding a way for the Tigers to win the Colonial Athletic Association this year, he’s facing an entirely different battle at home.
His 5-year-old son has autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts nearly one out of every 42 boys and one in every 189 girls, according to Autism Speaks.
Every year, the basketball team works with the University to produce programs to help raise awareness for autism. Saturday, the Tigers will take on the James Madison Dukes in the Autism Awareness game at 2 p.m. in SECU Arena.
The Towerlight spoke with Skerry after practice Thursday about the struggles of parenting a child with autism, and what he hopes to get out of the game.
Before practice, you held a basketball clinic with members of the University’s Hussman Center for Adults With Autism. Is that something you’ve done before?
We’ve done a couple clinics with them before. We have really good guys on our team and on our staff, so they’re more than happy to work with people at the Hussman Center. It really teaches life skills, and it’s a place where adults on the spectrum can feel comfortable and get the services that they need.
What does it mean for you as a parent that the University offers these kinds of services for adults with autism, especially having a son that may need those services in the future?
It’s important. When kids become men and they age out of certain services, we need to make sure they’re valuable members of society. It’s just another one of the great resources they have at Towson.
What are some of the struggles you face as a parent of a child with autism?
Every parent has worries. My wife does a lot more than I do, but it’s like coaching a team. In order to get the output you want, you have to put in the work. You have short-term worries. How’s his day going at school? How’s he doing with his speech? And then you have long-term worries. As the parent of an autistic child, you wonder if he’ll have a job. How he’s going to do. Is society going to accept him? That’s part of raising awareness. Prevalencey [sic] rates are so high that everyone knows someone who is on the spectrum. No two people on the spectrum are alike, but people need to know that there are high intelligent people and highly functioning people who are on the spectrum.
As a parent, what are some things you’d like to see improved in terms of awareness or services around autism?
It costs the average family $60,000 a year to get the services they need, and not a lot of families have that. And it breaks my heart to think of all the kids out there, whose future relies on getting the services that they need, so that’s what this awareness is all about.
How did the relationship between the team and autism awareness begin?
My wife and I came up with the idea my second year at Towson. I wanted to do something on campus and something with the organizations in the greater Baltimore area, and we’re even taking it national now.
At every game, you wear a lapel pin on your suit of a puzzle piece, which is the symbol for autism awareness in America. Why do you do that, and what have you gotten out of it?
The reason I do it is because at every game, or every arena we go to, someone asks me about it. It’s a great platform for it. I tell them that I have a child with autism, and hopefully they go home and look it up and learn a little bit more about it.