Kent State is becoming the first school in NCAA history to sign a player with autism to compete in a Division I sport. Kalin Bennett isn’t just aiming to play basketball when he arrives on campus next summer, he wants to inspire kids with autism everywhere to follow their dreams — no matter what.
Bennett is moving from Little Rock, Arkansas, with his mom and the 6’10 center told Cleveland.com what he wants to do on, and off the court.
“I want to make an impact not just on the court, but with kids that are struggling with the same things I am,’’ Bennett said. “I want to use this platform to inspire other kids with autism and non-autism. I want to let them know, hey, if I can do this, you can do it, too. A lot of times they feel alone and by themselves, and I felt that same way growing up.’’
Bennett was recruited by several schools, but chose Kent State largely because of the school’s commitment to autism awareness. As a child it was believed he would be one of the 25-50 percent of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder who would remain non-verbal throughout his life. Early diagnosis showed Bennett may never walk, and while it took him until the age of four before his first steps, and eight before he could have a conversation, work and therapy allowed him to overcome his struggles.
When it came time to graduate high school Bennett spoke to the therapist who gave him the initial diagnosis saying he might never walk or talk, just to explain his point of view on the impact saying someone “can’t” do something could have on them.
“So, when he read it, and then met the therapist, he said; ‘Are you the one who said I would never do this and never do that?’ She said, ‘Yes Kalin, I am.’ He said, ‘My question is, I hope you haven’t told anybody else that because you could ruin their lives.’ She sat right there and took it from Kalin. She did.”
Kent State calls Bennett a “phenomenal human being,” and are excited to see what he can bring to the team and campus next year. Meanwhile Bennett, who excels at math and music, in addition to basketball, is proving to the world that people with autism spectrum disorders are not all the same — and never to count them out. While their path might be more difficult, they can achieve anything, and now there will be a college athlete with a scholarship playing the highest level of NCAA basketball to be a role model.