As ACEing Autism’s reach continues to expand, we are connecting with new communities as well as witnessing some wonderful gains in program development. At two of our locations we are piloting ACEing Allies, a peer-modeling program that, at the outset, is showing positive results. In this program, a typically developing child works alongside a child with autism, participating in the class to model appropriate behaviors, good social skills, and tennis strokes.
The ACEing Ally is either a sibling or a child of similar age to the child with ASD. Having a peer model work with a child on the spectrum allows both children to benefit, to learn from seeing appropriate behaviors modeled and to practice social skills, such as turn-taking, making eye contact, initiating verbal interactions, and developing conversational skills with same age peers. Our Allies are there to learn the game of tennis, but they are also there to offer help and encouragement. A child with autism is much more likely to learn from a peer model than from working one-on-one with an adult instructor. Our peer models will illustrate a forehand stroke drill, for example, and the child with ASD will be more likely to make an effort to copy their Ally.
Having an Ally present is not only great for the self-esteem of a child with ASD, but our peer models are given the opportunity to interact with kids that they may have never had direct contact with in every day life. The development of compassion, tolerance, acceptance, and understanding of those who are different from themselves has been overwhelmingly seen in all of our peer models, from the middle school age all the way down to the 5-year olds.
Another exciting result from this model has been the number of peer models who are being introduced to the sport of tennis for the very first time. Many of our peer models have started taking private lessons because of their involvement with ACEing Autism. Not only does the peer model appear to accelerate improvement in our participants with ASD, but it is also growing the game of tennis!
– Richard Spurling, Founder and CEO of ACEing Autism