When tennis pro Richard Spurling married child neurologist Shefali Jeste, they decided to also marry their skill sets to create a tennis program (his expertise) that would help children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD, her specialty).
The benefits of physical exercise for children who have difficulty focusing, struggle with social interaction, and may have language impairment, repetitive behaviors and restricted interests have long been documented. However, there weren’t specific studies involving tennis for this group. Spurling thought tennis would be a good fit if fun, rather than skill development, could be emphasized. Jeste knew that motor function is critical for language development, social learning and cognitive ability. So together they developed a fun program with a goal of improving both gross and fine motor skills.
Thus, ACEing Autism was born in 2008, and now several programs are underway from coast to coast (Boston, New York and Los Angeles) with a couple in between (Nashville and Palm Beach). The raving testimonials from parents and their happy, excited children clearly show that their system works. Tennis is a perfect exercise to promote eye-hand coordination and motor skill development while providing an outlet for social interaction with other children, an environment often not available to those with ASD. Their attention spans improve, and they come away with a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of belonging to a group, all while having fun.
ACEing Autism utilizes the USTA’s format of short courts and soft balls used for 10-and-under tennis, while being structured specifically for these special children. Formal assessments of each child’s pre- and post-program function have resulted in putting measures in place so that the Spurlings’ system can be used anywhere. Visit www.aceingautism.com for more information about bringing tennis to ASD children in your community.
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