Meet Graham Thompson, a 9-year-old athlete from our Houston – The Forest Club program in Texas.
“He has a hard time following directions, but the structure of the program allows freedom for him,” his mother, Stacey Thomspon, explained. “He is a rigid thinker so this works great because they meet him where he is at. It’s not stressful for him because he knows he can take a break, he knows what to expect, but within the class they have freedom.”
But going back to the beginning, Stacey explains that the Houston – The Forest Club program can be somewhat credited to Graham. “We belong to the Forest Club and I enrolled my daughter in tennis classes. Coach Stacy Aguirre suggested I enroll Graham as well; she felt strongly that tennis could be a big asset in his life. Once Coach Stacy got to know Graham and started working with him, she looked into ways other autistic kids could enjoy tennis. That’s when she found ACEingAutism. So the Forest Club chapter sort of started because of him,” she laughed.
When he first started ACEing Autism two years ago, it was very hard to change his mind as he was very set on “don’t tell me what to do,” his mother shared. “But now, he is able to adjust and participate more. For instance, if he wants to do home runs, they’ll allow him to do five and then he has to do two volleys,” Stacy said.
On top of improving his coordination and his overall body skills, one of the most important benefits she has seen is that Graham gained a sense of belonging through ACEing Autism. “He always feels part of the group, never feels left out, and that is an amazing feeling for him,” she commented with a chuckle in her voice. “It’s not easy for these kids to find a place where they feel like they fit, so this gives him that.”
But what does Graham think of his Saturday class with coach Stacy? “I have a lot of favorite parts, but I love tennis time because they let me choose with hand-eye coordination and racquet drills,” he said with a smile ear to ear! “We rally together, we get trivia questions, so it’s fun. My favorite thing to do with the group is the final cheer,” as he jumped up and down of excitement laughing.
From a mom’s perspective, “it’s great to have a class where I can relax, where I know it’s a safe environment, and they got him and he is doing well,” Stacey continued. In addition, “it allowed me to reconnect with two moms from Graham’s therapy and one mom from the club I hadn’t met. It’s so nice to have a place where you can talk about the stresses, and what you go through even though every child is different.”
But as Stacey continued to elaborate on Graham’s progress, she noticed that “he has improved at school too and he participates more. He wants to be a part of a group but because of his social skill challenges, it’s not easy. ACEing Autism gives him that and accepts him for who he is, so it helps him.” She is also very proud of Graham for being able to take classes at the club with neurotypical students now and “he is able to play tennis at the club on his own,” she told us excitedly.
As we get to the end of the interview, Stacey confided how ACEing Autism became a key part of his therapy. “It’s a place where he can be proud and we can see his improvements beyond the court, at home and in class.” She carried on with a big smile on her face revealing that “playing family tennis is a dream of mine and now we get to do that as a family,” she said beaming. “I take some of the drills from ACEing Autism and it helps him feel comfortable. It’s just fun!”
And in case we had any doubt, Graham confirmed how much he enjoys ACEing Autism. “I LOVE ACEING AUTISM! Most parts are my favorite but I’m always really happy.”
Congratulations to Graham for all his work and his accomplishments. We can’t wait to see him back on court.