A Great Guy Doing a Great Thing
Richard Spurling is a passionate but soft spoken Swede, who spends his days teaching tennis on Southern California’s hard courts. His wife, Shafali Jeste is a Harvard MD specializing in behavioral child neurology with a focus on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
New statistics suggest one in eighty-eight kids have some version of ASD, from Asperger’s to non-communicative kids, and everything in between. Several years ago, in Boston, Spurling was teaching tennis to his own children and spending time around his wife’s research participants. He saw an opportunity and a need for a special tennis program.
Believing they could make a difference, the two merged their interests to form , a meaningful, non-profit organization dedicated to bringing tennis as a play based program to kids with ASD. In 2010, the couple moved to Los Angeles for Jeste’s research, and today, ACEing Autism is growing across the country.
In the program, each child is paired with trained volunteers – high school or college students doing community service, involve parents, or local tennis coaches – and the kids perform exercises including running and jumping, hand-eye coordination skills such as rolling and balancing the ball, tennis volleys, groundstrokes fro the service line and other group games. The program is flexible and modified to fit each child’s skill level and favorite activities. Anybody with autism is accepted.
When a club starts the program, Spurling provides a manual and personal training for the club pros on how to handle autistic children. ACEing Autism donates all of the equipment for the program to the participating club. At present, funding comes from private donations from families with autistic kids and benefactors who have contributed via http://www.gofundme.com/aceingautism. “Our goal,” says Spurling, “is to open more sites to reach as many kids as possible, because autism is a 24-hour per day job and this lets parents breathe while the kids have fun. Our dream would be to have a professional tennis spokesperson representing the program and to help do enough fundraising to expand to more states.”
Former famous Roxy Theater general manager, Jason DeCosta has been playing tennis since 2005. “I was always in trouble as a youth and had a soft spot for kids who need help. The first time I saw this program, I loved all the kids and volunteers and I joined to help out. I see the same love for the game that I saw when I first started playing.” DeCosta now serves as ACEing Autism’s marketing director.
Watching these classes, parents see their children’s faces light up. The kids are engaged, focused, and many of the high-functioning students are communicating their love for the game. Low functioning players can hit volleys while happy parents look on.
“Watching some of these incredibly gifted children has been the greatest experience of my life,” says DeCosta. “I only hope we can give more kids and parents a chance to experience the joys of tennis and autism.”
For more information on ACEing Autism, please visit, http://www.aceingautism.com/
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