Stacy McAlister is a former professional basketball player who has a son on the autism spectrum. After seeing the benefits of basketball drills with his son, Stacy decided to launch a #DribbleforAutism initiative that supports Autistic children in building sportsmanship, social skills, coordination, strength & cognitive development.
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Stacy McAlister. I'm 28 years old. From Compton, California. A graduate of Claflin University (2012), a HBCU (historical black college) in Orangeburg, South Carolina. I played basketball for four years for two Division II programs. Had the opportunity to play professionally in England and Brunei (located in Southeast Asia). I have two children. a 5 year old son (Chace) and 2 year old daughter (Reign).
What was the journey of your son's autism diagnosis?
I first noticed right after I returned from playing basketball in England that he was not giving full eye contact, responding to his name, and pointing to things he wanted a little before his 2nd birthday. That Summer, I passed on an offer to play basketball after being informed he was diagnosed with Autism. There was a lot of early intervention. Chace had speech therapy and occupational therapy once per week, ABA therapy 15 hours per week and school as well at the age 2.5. It was a lot of running around and learning about Autism, it took a lot of patience. It also took a team effort with my family and his mom's family that every one would be on the same page with him as well.
What is 5-Eleven Hoops and how did this initiative come to be?
5-Eleven Hoops is a non profit organization providing basketball training for individuals across the Autism Spectrum and other special needs. We work on all aspects of basketball, from footwork, dribbling, shooting, passing, defense, and conditioning. This initiative came about after playing basketball professionally in Brunei (located in Southeast Asia) and doing a basketball clinic with the Shooting Stars of Brunei and the Special Olympics of Brunei. I had never conducted a basketball clinic and just had the children do drills that I and other basketball players work on and they loved it.
The name 5-Eleven stands for my son's birthday May 11, 2011. Once I returned home, I began to work out with my son and his cousin (who is also on the Autism Spectrum) made some flyers, reached out to some parents, and started posting videos from workouts on Instagram — so it grew from there.
For individuals on the autism spectrum or with other special needs, what impact can sports have?
I feel sports plays a vital role in development for individuals on the Autism Spectrum. I have seen it build a lot of confidence. Also, I have noticed that sports works on coordination and strength, social skill development, and cognitive/critical thinking skills.
What challenges have you faced while building this #DribbleforAutism initiative, and what are your greatest sources of motivation and support?
I feel the biggest challenge I've had is balancing my life with my children and not getting so caught up on building the #Dribble4Autism initiative. Also, trying to find a partner that would be 100 percent into building 5-Eleven Hoops bigger and spreading the word out more. I do everything alone, so it gets overwhelming some times.
What advice do you have for parents raising a child who has special needs?
My advice for parents raising a child who has special needs is to be patient, to push your child and expose them to everything. Be proactive and do your research on things that may help your child. Every child is different so what may work for your child may not work for another. Also know your rights and research programs that are available for your child because they will not be easy to find. You have to dig deep and find them. But overall enjoy the journey that God has put you on with your child because it will only make you stronger.