Pat Skerry

Towson men's basketball coach Pat Skerry is hosting his second Autism Awareness Day at the Tigers' home game Saturday at 4:40 p.m. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun / January 23, 2013)

When his son Owen was diagnosed with autism at 18 months, Pat Skerry did not believe it.

"I thought it was way too early," the Towson men's basketball coach recalled. "It could have been other things. I was not really accepting of it."

His wife, Kristen, knew otherwise.

"She is the one who moved the chains on it," Skerry said. "She was really good about things, saying, 'What are we going to do next? How are we going to attack this?' She has been a superstar with it."

Now, almost four years later, Owen is increasingly more communicative and his father has grown a movement to raise awareness and funds for a once-unfamiliar cause.

Saturday is Towson's second Autism Awareness Day, and several autism groups will set up informational tables at SECU Arena when the Tigers (13-8, 4-2 Colonial Athletic Association) play host to Drexel (11-9, 3-4). Towson's players will also wear blue warm-up shirts with an autism awareness ribbon.

"Until you are affected by [autism], you are not aware enough about it," Skerry said. "I think it's like anything. People have heard of it, but do they know the prevalence rates? Do they know how much it costs the average family to provide the right services? Do they know there is no medical cure for it? Probably not."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in 88 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder. The right child-care services can cost a family up to $60,000 a year, Skerry says, and little is known about the cause of the disorder, for which there is no known cure.

This year, Skerry expanded Towson's Autism Awareness Day by joining forces with Marshall coach Tom Herrion, who also has an autistic child. The two reached out to a number of coaches across the country for help promoting the cause, and nearly 100 will wear blue "Autism Speaks" pins on the sidelines Saturday, including Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse's Jim Boeheim.

"I think it's always refreshing, and a warm feeling, to see people help out," Skerry said. "Maybe it's not something that affects them, but they know it's something that is serious enough for them to get on board.

"The traction this thing has gotten has been unbelievable."

pbarrett@baltsun.com

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