Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
In the News

NBA star Tony Snell speak out for 1st time on autism diagnosis: ‘I am the way I am’

Woman and man facing one another talking
Tony Snell at Healthy Athletes at Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023

Special Olympics supporter, Tony Snell, spoke with TODAY Show’s Craig Melvin to share his experience of finding out he has autism after his child was diagnosed with autism.

Tony Snell has lived with autism his entire life, but the 31-year-old professional basketball player only recently learned about his diagnosis as an adult.

Now, for the first time, Snell is opening up about being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder to show others that the sky is the limit. Snell shared his story in an exclusive interview with TODAY's Craig Melvin aired on Friday, June 16.

At 31, Snell boasts an impressive career in American professional basketball. The NBA veteran has played for teams including the Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks, Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks, Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans.

Snell has come a has come a long way from growing up as a tall, shy kid in South Los Angeles, where he defied the odds to reach basketball stardom. "I could have easily joined in some gangs or just all negative things back then, but basketball just kept me on the straight narrow path that I wanted to be on," Snell told Craig.

According to Snell, that intense focus—along with hard work and determination—landed him the NBA at the age of 21. After nine seasons in the major league, Snell signed with G-league team the Maine Celtics in 2023.

But Snell said it's the family he's building off the basketball court that has changed him the most and helped him in his own journey of self-discovery.

Last year, he and his wife, Ashley Snell, noticed that their young son Karter had started to miss some developmental milestones.

"By 18 months, he still wasn’t talking (and) he was doing a lot of stimming movements. ... He always has to have like six or seven toys in his hands, usually one is always a basketball," Ashley Snell told Craig. A doctor later told Snell that they needed to get Karter tested for autism, she added.

Autism, also called autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People with autism spectrum disorder may experience problems with communication or social interaction, restricted or repetitive behaviors (such as stimming) and interests, and differences in learning, moving or paying attention, per the CDC.

For Snell, his son's autism diagnosis was a lightbulb moment that caused him to reflect on his own behavior as a child.

Continue reading Tony’s story.

Recommended Content

Commit To Change: Leaving No One Behind

At Special Olympics, we’re not just about sports. We are agents of change, stepping up for a more inclusive world—one in which everyone has the opportunity to lead meaningful and well-rounded lives.
3 Min Read

SOEA Special Education Coach Shares their experience as a coach with Special Olympics / 特奥东亚区特殊教育学校的教练分享特奥教练经验

Special Olympics Asia Pacific coach, Peng Shaojian, details his experience of being a coach at a special education school in China, sharing how by becoming a better coach himself, he can be better equipped to help the athletes and students he coaches.
4 Min Read

Special Olympics Celebrates Women’s History Month

For Women’s History Month, we are proud to support all the amazing women in the Special Olympics movement, including our athletes, volunteers, coaches, leadership, staff and everyone who makes Special Olympics possible across the globe.
1 Min Read