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Program Uses Tennis To Help Kids, Teens With Autism

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WESTWOOD (CBS) — This Saturday more than 40 organizations will come together, as part of Stephanie’s Day, a resource fair featuring some of the best intervention programs and therapies for autism.

One of those programs is making a difference by getting kids and teens on the tennis court. It is called ACEing Autism.

The program uses a unique approach to teach skills, help with social interaction and, of course, there is also a lot of fun involved.

Five-year-old Diego has been in the program for a year. His parents think it is making a huge difference.

These kids need patience, they need love, so we have found those elements here at ACEing Autism, because we are part of a big family,” said Diego’s father, Manuel Herrera.

Also part of that family is 9-year-old Michelle. At first she could not even hit the ball, now she is a star on the court and she has learned a lot more than the fundamentals of tennis.

“Taking turns, sharing, being compassionate,” Michelle said, describing the other skills she has learned.

Her friend Enzo also came here, not able to even focus on the ball. But now it is a different story.

“What do you think about tennis,” I asked.

“That I know how to play it,” Enzo replied with confidence.

“It is great for him to know when to take his turn, when to wait, to be aware of the other kids, not to swing the racquet crazy,” said Enzo’s mother, Gabriella Tessier de Lunetta.

The all-volunteer program started in Boston and is now here in Southern California. Kids are divided into two groups, 10 and under and 11 and older. It was started by tennis pro Richard Spurling.

“I mean it’s such a great program for kids on the spectrum, because they get to work on their motor skills, their hand-eye coordination and social skills and they have a great time while they are doing it,” Spurling said.

So how does a tennis pro, come up with the idea for a program like ACEing autism. Well, the idea was a family affair.

“My wife is a neurologist and she’s doing autism research here at UCLA, so she was the one who came to me about four years ago and said, ‘We have to offer a program for these kids, because they’re traveling all over the place to try to find suitable programs,’” Spurling said.

Now the inspiration can be seen all over the court, in all age groups and in the confidence these kids have, even giving me a few tips.

“So first put your racquet like this and then someone throws [the ball]

It is no doubt that love and varying sets of skills are a perfect match for these kids and teens — making a different on and off the court.

Stephanie’s Day, a resource fair to help inform and connect families of children with special needs, including autism, will be held Saturday, August 13 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the CBS lot in Studio City. Admission and parking will be free.

» Learn More About Stephanie’s Day
» Learn More About ACEing Autism
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