Guest blog: Written by Richard Spurling – Executive Director/Founder of ACEing Autism

Standing in front of 150 experts in the autism field and an audience of 800 people online, it was an honor for me to present at the 9th Annual Autism Science Foundation (ASF) Day of Learning. The ASF is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 2009 which funds cutting-edge autism research and provides trusted, evidence-based information about interventions. Our presence amongst the experts proves that our efforts to gather results and continued commitment to quality is being noticed. 

The Day of Learning allowed seven people in the field of autism to share their findings from their research in Ted-style talks. Dr. Susan Daniels spoke about shaping new federal priorities for autism research; Dr. Matthew Maenner shared the latest CDC autism data; Dr. Brigitta Gunderson talked about biological bases for sex differences in ASD; Dr. Amy Wetherby talked about mobile technology to help families detect ASD and Dr. Zoe Hawks shared how she is measuring the impact of leisure activities such as a bicycle program. 

I spoke about the structured curriculum that we have created that caters to children with autism and that our program is now offered in over one hundred and ten locations. I also shared our journey over the past five years with collecting outcomes. In collaboration with Dr. Rujuta Wilson at UCLA CART (Centers for Autism Research and Treatment) we started by using the Vineland and the Aberrant Behavior Checklist, but have had great results from a parent survey and program director survey. Both of them consistently show broad positive outcomes in tennis skills, motor skills, on-task engagement and social skills. I ended the talk by sharing that we are in the process of creating a measurement tool that will become a sustainable system of evaluating the success of the program over time. 

To do this, ACEing Autism conducted a needs assessment with stakeholders, parents, participants, coaches, volunteers, donors and even the foundations that support our mission. The themes that emerged from this assessment are: socialization, acceptance, peer to peer, communication skills, exercise, health and fun.

Additionally, this allowed us to create a measurement tool that can best capture both impact and areas of needed improvement. Our hope is to use this to not only ensure our program is serving our mission but also to build a cutting edge evidence-based program for children with autism. 

ACEing Autism is very grateful to all of the families that participate in our sessions and surveys which enable us to measure improvements in children through tennis, and to share all of this wonderful progress with the esteemed community of autism researchers and scientists.