Asher Major is an 11-year-old boy with autism spectrum disorder, a neurodevelopmental disorder in which children have significant delays in social interaction and language. Many children like Asher struggle to communicate, even at a basic level, with others.
Two years ago, when Asher was 9, he came to the Burbank Tennis Center to try tennis through ACEing Autism
, a non-profit tennis program designed for children with autism. Asher’s parents, Clarence and Suzette, hoped to introduce their son to a new sport, one which may allow him to meet and play with other children.
Asher took to the game right away. He ran around enthusiastically and immediately picked up a racquet. The instructors at the Burbank Tennis Center then set out to work to harness that energy, setting up a lesson plan along with group warm-up exercises, hand-eye coordination drills and some basic stroke production drills and group drills.
After his first session, Asher was hooked. Today, he plays tennis almost daily, and he talks about the sport even more frequently. He has started to make new friends through tennis. Because of Asher’s love for tennis, his family has joined the Burbank Tennis Center, and now his parents, Clarence and Suzette, and little brother, Gad, are taking tennis lessons so that they can keep up with Asher.
Asher’s father notes that Asher has had a passion for other things like bowling and puzzles, but nothing like the enthusiasm that he has for tennis.
“When we would drive to the tennis court, he would practically want me to drive on top of cars to get him there quickly,” said Clarence Major. “I remember when we first started, he would try to get out of the car before the car would come to a full stop, for all he wanted was to get on to that tennis court. It’s really has changed his whole mindset, his whole heart and his whole life. His life has become tennis.”
In a typical week, Asher plays one hour of tennis with ACEing Autism on the weekend, and he receives two hours of private tennis lessons from an ACEing Autism instructor, trained in working with children with autism. He also hits every day against his garage door at home.
Asher’s mother smiles as she sees him on his way to bed with his tennis backpack — his backpack holds about six racquets.
“I just burst out laughing because that is how much he loves tennis,” Suzette Major said. “You know how some kids have their favorite stuffed toy, well Asher’s is his Head bag and tennis racquets. He often will sleep with his tennis racquets either next to his bed or in his bed.”
Asher’s love for the sport has translated into greater confidence in his social interaction and communication skills. He recently gave a presentation to his class at school titled ” Teaching the serve” in which he modeled the steps (both verbally and physically) that are required to execute a perfect serve.
In October of last year, Asher and his father were invited to talk about the impact tennis has had on their lives in front of 300 people at an ACEing Autism fundraiser. Asher had spent many hours with his speech pathologist preparing his speech, but the number of people in the room made it too difficult for him to deliver his lines. However, as he stood proudly on the stage in front of so many strangers, holding his racquet and smiling, he won the hearts of the entire crowd.
In March, Asher and his father were invited to speak at the USTA Adaptive Tennis Committee meeting in La Costa, Calif. Asher was excited about another opportunity to speak in front of a group, and this time he reveled in the spotlight, charming the audience with his enthusiasm. In a soft voice full of effort and pride, he read a short prepared speech in which he thanked the USTA for allowing him to learn to play tennis, all the while gripping his beloved racquet in his hands.