UMMS students help children ACE Autism

Aspiring doctors, health care professionals connect with special needs students through tennis

By Bryan Goodchild and Megan Bard

UMass Medical School Communications

Thanks to student volunteers from UMass Medical School, a special group of Central Massachusetts children have been provided an opportunity to learn to love tennis through the ACEing Autism program.

ACEing Autism, a national non-profit organization, provides recreation, physical activity and social interaction for children with autism through group tennis lessons. Students from UMMS, with help from colleges across Worcester, started a new chapter in Shrewsbury. They are learning about the challenges faced by children on the autism spectrum and to better communicate with them. Co-founder and second-year School of Medicine student Mary Cavanaugh said they also want to become better advocates for children with autism spectrum disorders.

“It is something I’ve always been really passionate about,” said Cavanaugh, who has played tennis since she was 9 and worked as a camp counselor and tutor for children with autism.

With support from a MLK Semester of Service Student Award, the program has allowed 35 volunteers, primarily UMMS students, to teach tennis to 24 families.

First-year medical student Nisarg Chhaya, a former Shrewsbury High School varsity tennis player, said it’s essential that children on the autism spectrum have opportunities to get involved with athletic activities to stimulate their senses and help them socialize.

For grandparent Cheryl Johnson, the program has been a strong resource.

“I like to keep him active so that he can burn off his energy,” Johnson, whose grandson, Javier, is a participant, said on a recent Sunday.

Javier, 8, discovered the tennis group through the Autism Resource Center of Central Massachusetts in West Boylston, the student organization’s community partner.

For his part, Javier enjoys the hour each Sunday that he spends at the Shrewsbury Health & Racquet Club.

His favorite aspects of the program include: the games, practicing volleys, the “awesome coaches” and that they make a good team.

“He always wants to come; he enjoys himself,” Johnson said.

Read full article click here