Meet Alistair Davis, a 15-year-old athlete from our Akron, OH, program. After seeing everyone’s reactions to Alistair’s story by his High School Varsity Tennis Coach Craig Sampsell, we knew we had to get to know him. A freshman out of Firestone High School, Alistair participates in our ACEing Autism Akron program and “he really looks forward to it,” his father Donovan said. “I’m a big Cleveland sports fan but Alistair has never been into it, so we were excited to find a sport that he really likes.”
When his parents reached out to the tennis coach at his school, “I thought it would be great for him to watch and learn from it, be a part of it,” his mother Jan explained. “But it exceeded our expectations. Coach Sampsell was like, no, he is part of the team, I’ll get him time. We didn’t think as a freshman he would be playing for his HS team,” the proud mother continued.
For Donovan and Jan, “it’s been a wave of emotions being on this journey, but we’ve been fortunate as a family not to experience bullying or anything like that. There are points in that journey where it feels isolating, so the outpour of support means a lot. We love to see how included he is thanks to tennis, he even had people come to see him during his match,” the mother of two beamed.
Even though Alistair started ACEing Autism only a year and a half ago, his parents have seen many benefits already. “He loves to interact with people but doesn’t know how to,” his father explained. “It’s helping him grow that way. For example, the other day after a match, it was cold so his coach said, ‘if it’s too cold you can leave,’ and when he left, he said ‘good luck,’” Donovan fondly remembered. “This was a big deal for us because it wasn’t prompted.”
Jan then went on to say that “as parents, you worry about what’s going to happen when they start something new or are put in new situations. But with ACEing Autism, everybody was amazing, very compassionate, and kind. And when Alistair played in his first varsity match last week, his doubles partner Reese was like a mentor and coach to him, and the opposing team was so good with him as well,” she told us.
Then Alistair came in and when asked how he felt after his first varsity match – he had played two matches prior to this with the junior varsity team – his immediate response was: “I’m happy.” His parents laughed and let him know it was okay to go.
As we near the end of our interview, the discussion switched to Alistair’s brother. “His younger brother is neurotypical so you have to adapt and figure out a different way to parent,” Donovan chuckled. “Since Alistair was our first born, we figured out what worked for him and how he operates, and then when Sebastian came along, we realized that we had to figure a whole new plan,” he laughed.
“Both are such compassionate people, lovers really. We’ve had conversations with Sebastian so he understands, and helps his brother out, they’re protective of each other.”
As we end our call, Jan leaves us with this. “If he continues this, his potential to grow is big, and I’m really excited for him.”