No doubt, many college athletes face challenges above and beyond their sport. Academics, finances, and social pressure are more than enough to handle for typical undergrads. For former Roger Williams University field hockey player Morgan Foley, a diagnosis of autism during her senior year became a significant hurdle. Foley made the courageous decision to go public and announce her diagnosis, which led to her developing an Instagram account that has amassed almost 50,000 followers.
Being part of a team was critical for the criminal justice major, who graduated in May 2023. “I played field hockey at Roger Williams all four years,” she says. “Being on a sports team was how I survived college. It was like an accommodation; it was helpful to me, as someone who is autistic and has ADHD. I’m someone who doesn’t make friends easily. It gave me my friends; it gave me everything.”
Roger Williams coach Jill Reeve, who is entering her second year, met Foley last fall. “She was a senior on the team,” says Reeve. “Initially she was very cautious; she told me she was going through some things. It wasn’t until very late in the season that she told me she had been diagnosed with autism. It was disorienting for her because her identity shifted radically. The pressures of senior year in college are challenging for any student, but more so for a student who is diagnosed with a condition.”
The announcement helped bring the team together. “It was a wonderful moment for the team,” continues Reeve. “She was letting them in. Sometimes, in a very competitive setting, an athlete tends not to share because it could work against them. The coach may see somebody struggling as a weakness, and the athlete might not get playing time.”
Reeves shares that she learned a lot from the experience about how to better support student athletes whose communication needs may differ. Working with Foley to meet her where she was coming from helped open channels of communication and overcome misunderstandings – a lesson that all coaches and athletes can benefit from.
Foley’s senior year was especially challenging. “I almost wasn’t able to finish school. Coach was super accommodating with everything. I had to sit out for tournament, the first time I ever had to take a leave of absence; it was hard, but it needed to be done.”
Now an alum, Foley continues to be active on Instagram and TikTok sharing her story and the challenges she faces. “I knew that I wanted to be super open about it,” she says. “When you get diagnosed with autism, especially later in life, you have this whole realization; you learn that your lifestyle is not sustainable. That’s why I had such a hard time. I was not getting the accommodations, the support before. I knew that I had to make major life changes. My lifestyle was not designed for an autistic ADHD-er.”
Foley’s videos are instructive and entertaining and serve to support her journey and educate the public at large. “I needed people to understand my brain, so I thought why not tell everybody? I thought, if this is happening to me, it’s happening to other people too.” Follow on Instagram @MorganFoley; RWUHawks.com
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