Meet Aleksandr and Michael Chernov, respectively 11 and 9 years old, who both participate in the Westchester, NY, program. “When I see how the program works, everyone – the children, the volunteers, and the coordinators – I learn a lot from them. All I see sort of sets the emphasis and encourages me to do much more and better in my own life. It inspires me,” Andrey Chernov, a father of two, said. “For me, ACEing Autism is three things: it is Love, the future of the children, Life and Fun!”.
Originally from Russia, Andrey and his wife moved to the United States 10 years ago as a family of three. “It was a new country, a new language, a new job, everything was new,” he laughed. “Our second child was born here in New York, and then we got diagnoses, one after another, first Sasha and then Misha” explained Andrey.
“It just so happened that for the first two years of living in the US, we were both excited about the future, happy with what we were doing, and then the autism kicked in. It was like a submarine on a very long high-seas passage where you can’t open a window to have some fresh air, constantly struggling to navigate forward and you don’t know when you’re going to surface, and you really need it. Then we just realized it’s about teamwork and building that team to help ourselves and our kids, he continued.”
That’s where the ACEing Autism program came to the rescue. When they received an email about the program, they signed up both of their children for the spring 2023 session. “We decided to come and let the kids try tennis, and then we realized it was a perfect fit for both kids; they absolutely love it. We don’t have to motivate them, even if it’s on a Sunday night when they just feel like sitting on their Ipad. They are both excited about coming to tennis,” he said with a chuckle.
Even though Aleksandr and Michael need very different kinds of support, tennis works for both of them. “After one hour of training, both kids come home relaxed and peaceful. I am impressed by how they interact with the volunteers and how they share their experiences, it’s just amazing. They all benefit. It helps the volunteers with leadership skills and the kids see them as role models.” he smiled. “Tennis requires powerful skills such as endurance, concentration and perseverance. These are the things that need to be fostered in autism, and I think it is by playing tennis that we can make significant progress. After all, it is a sport and it should be approached in a playful manner.”
In addition to helping his children gain motor skills, social skills, and work on their fitness, tennis has opened up opportunities Andrey and his family are thankful for. “On 9/9/23, we visited the US Open to celebrate my son’s ninth birthday. The experience was amazing,” recalls the proud dad. It was our first time there and when the staff at the entrance found out it was my son’s birthday, the whole staff at the US Open rushed over to wish us a happy birthday, it was such a great day. Families affected by autism are closed families in their own way, so sometimes we may think we’re not welcome and think twice about going somewhere. But that shouldn’t be the case. I think we should show the world that autism is part of our living and we need to embrace it and give it our love.”
As we wrap up our interview, Andrey wanted to thank Sharon Smolkin, the Westchester Program Director, Justin and Ethan, and say how grateful they are to them. “Sharon’s family, part of our family. Children like ours are in great need of programs like this one. Thank you so much!!”