The year leading up to my bar mitzvah was when I decided to take on a project called Aceing Autism. The goal of it was to teach autistic kids how to play tennis, or at least to the point so they could play recreationally as they get older.
In the first month of the program my only role was to fill in for some volunteers who couldn’t make it a certain Saturday. I had only done it once or twice, but by the end of those one hour sessions I knew it was something I wanted to take a part in. I didn’t know why at first, just that it was compelling to help disabled children with a sport I love to play so much. I wanted to give them the equal opportunity I had to learn how to play tennis.
Every sunday there were about 810 kids we were teaching. Every week I was paired with one child to work with, but there were a lot of weeks, and I had the chance to work with many kids. I would toss them balls, help them develop their form, and sometimes rally with them. All the kids got better. Although some were already pretty good to begin with so we got in some good rally points. The thing the fulfilled me the most was seeing them so happy and enthusiastic to improve.
They all had the desire to learn, but the most challenging part was to get them to focus. I soon understood that unless with the outside complication of a physical disability, the severity of my student’s autism was shown by the pace at which they lost and regained focus. They could do the same things physically, but it took some longer than others to develop what they learned. Most times I enjoyed working with the most unfocused because I knew it was on them I could have the greatest impact.
The reason that made me want to come back every week was how much they desired to learn and how much we liked to work with each other. I think it is best demonstrated by one of
my most advanced students, Austin. He loved to rally with me and was thankful when I helped him. This wasn’t the most impressive thing; it was how much he liked working with the other kids. He enjoyed hitting with other kids and, was really sad one day when one of his new friends wasn’t there at practice.
This experience gave me insight on what goals I should set and gave me skills as to how to complete them. One thing I gained from this experience was that when I know when grow up I need a job that has a significant impact on many people. Teaching and teaching autistic kids to get better at something they like to do is something that is very fulfilling and impactful. I know that in the future, the kids I helped teach will be able to pick up a racket whenever they want and be able to play. This is significant because it improves their lives by allowing them to have more fun, and it gives them more experience with sports. A job or something I can volunteer for that helps others makes me feel purposeful. This experience also caused me to redefine the definition of success. Success to me is not only being satisfied at a personal level, but also improving the lives of others and help many become happy. It is an obligation to help others, not an option. I had been playing tennis for years before Aceing Autism, and I felt obligated to aid those less fortunate to have a good opportunity to learn the game. That is what it should be about trying to give opportunities to people starting with less.
In addition to my mindset, this experience also gave me a few skills that will definitely help me as a progress through life. One of those things is patience. Although the students were trying their best to learn and utilize what they had learned they often got distracted. At this point it is easy to lose your cool, to act frustrated, and to give less effort at teaching despite them being prone to being distracted. This is how it started for me, and I would not get mad, but I let frustration get to me. As the weeks went on, I got better at not getting frustrated, and moving at
a nice easy pace. By the end of the program I got more patient with my partner and didn’t mind moving at a slow pace because it worked.
The other skill that I developed from this was open mindedness. I worked with many kids and each one of them was different. I had to adjust my teaching strategy every time. Sometimes I had to mix in more games, and sometimes I had to be more direct with my teaching efforts. The experience allowed me better at working with different types of people and more articulate at getting across what I want to convey.
Fortunately I am still participating in this program and we finished our most recent session a few months ago. I will definitely continue to volunteer in Aceing Autism. It has taught me a variety of skills and has made me enjoy and to want to help others. What more could I ask for from one hour every Saturday.