UW-Whitewater grad assist. basketball coach has Aspergers

WHITEWATER (WITI) -- Hearing you have Asperger Syndrome can be devastating -- but for a basketball coach at UW-Whitewater, it was actually a relief.

"Once I started playing basketball, I was hooked on it," Erin McKinney said.

McKinney grew up a gym rat.

"Basketball was definitely my sanctuary -- probably from eighth-grade on," McKinney said.

Off the court, it became a different matter for the Arkansas native.

"I always was more comfortable spending time with adults than I was with kids my own age," McKinney said.

Still, getting a handle on why her thought process seemed different than others her age was not easy to diagnose.

"Initially, I was diagnosed with ADHD. Once I got into college, someone else diagnosed me with depression and someone else diagnosed me with anxiety disorder. Then, someone else diagnosed me with obsessive-compulsive disorder. It wasn't until I moved up to Whitewater last year and I met with this new doctor and he's like 'Erin, you call that Asperger Syndrome,' so that was kind of like, the lightbulb moment," McKinney said.

Asperger Syndrome is a neurological development disorder. It is an autism spectrum disorder -- but McKinney's wasn't on the severe end of the spectrum. But still, it presents its set of challenges.

"The more I looked into what exactly Aspergers was and all the different people that have been affected by it and what they have done with their lives, the more I kind of began to see myself within that diagnosis, and then it became more of a relief. Now, I definitely see it as a relief because it provides an explanation for why I am the way I am, and why I do some of the things that I do," McKinney said.

Those things can be hard to notice. In fact, after making the decision to go into coaching, McKinney kept her condition mostly to herself.

A few months ago, that changed.

"I was really nervous. I had like, this one-page thing printed off that I was going to read about it," McKinney said.

"We were having a film session and she walked in," UW-Whitewater women's basketball Head Coach Keri Carollo said.

"I don't really remember what I said," McKinney said.

"She's like, 'okay you guys, I just want you to know this is this, and this is why I do this,'" Carollo said.

"All I remember was it was probably 30 seconds long," McKinney said.

"She was like, 'okay.' And then she like, walked out of the room," Carollo said.

"I think it was really cool -- and really encouraging and powerful for her to be able to speak in front of a group of girls she's only known for two years,"

"It wasn't really a problem before, except that now I think that they understand more of how my brain functions just a little bit differently than theirs. I think they are more comfortable around me now that they understand more of who I am," McKinney said.

"You gotta talk to people and tell them what's going on with you and your life in order for people to share with you what's going on in their life. That's what it taught me,"

"I think that's where she finally felt comfortable and confident to be like 'okay, I'm okay with this, and I can tell people and it's not a bad thing,'"

While McKinney's Aspergers does present certain obstacles in her current position, there are certain areas of the job she flourishes at, by using what her mind can grasp better than most -- numbers, patterns and sequences picked up when watching game tape.

McKinney also recently started writing her own blog -- revealing more about who she is to others, and to herself.

"Kinda puts you in a position of vulnerability to be willing to open up and talk about things that some people aren't comfortable talking about or hearing about. I want people to know that I'm not ashamed of having Aspergers. I have a heart for positively impacting the lives of young women I get to coach -- and to show that someone affected, and someone who does live on the spectrum is capable -- I have been told often that I will not be able to achieve my dream of becoming a college basketball coach. Here I am, to prove those people wrong. We're different, but we're not any less than anybody else. I stand up for myself, and for any others who are unable to stand on their own," McKinney said.