In the summer of 2008, my daughter Zoe was one of the first kids to help pilot ACEing Autism. She was 4.5 years old, had very few words and and even less ability to attend. Our first one-on-one session with founder, Richard Spurling, was pretty much a disaster. Zoe wouldn’t focus. She bolted all over the place. We couldn’t get her attention. She looked in every direction except the one we wanted. We were on clay courts and Zoe scooped up the clay and put it in her mouth. I can’t even describe how crushed I felt. I had played competitive tennis in college and always assumed my kids would both play and love sports. I started thinking up the excuses I would give Richard, fully expecting that he was about to utter what had become those all-too-familiar words, “Maybe she’s just not ready.”
But he didn’t. Instead, Richard said, “I think that was a good start. Will you come back again next week?”
And so we began on this path, slowly knocking obstacles out of Zoe’s way one at a time over these past 8 years. Sure, it’s been bumpy at times, but today Zoe hits running forehands and backhands with a smile on her face and has a killer forehand volley. My husband and I can take Zoe and her brother to the local tennis courts and play tennis pretty much like any other family.
I had just about started to take it all for granted when a new child joined Zoe’s clinic a few months ago. He had trouble focusing. There were some behaviors. It was tough to get his attention. His parents had to keep going on the court to help. His mother looked at Zoe and said to me, “Your daughter is so focused and follows directions so well. She’s so good at tennis and she is having so much fun. I don’t think my son will ever be able to do this.”
My mind wandered back to Zoe during that first session with Richard in 2008. Just then, Zoe hit a beautiful forehand, looked over at me, smiled and then turned to giggle with her volunteer as she scurried to get back in line for her next turn. Wow, I thought. Joint attention, shared enjoyment, social connection, motor planning, turn-taking, direction following, self-regulation, and just plain fun—all right here on display in one ACEing Autism clinic. I guess that day back in 2008 wasn’t such a disaster after all. It was the start of something great.
I hope ACEing Autism will be the start of something great for your family too.
Mira Tamir Spiegel – ACEing Autism Board Of Directors Member