Kidspeed volunteers have been joining special education teachers to offer a unique tennis program to children with autism.
by Joyce Dreslin, friend to USTA.com
In Minnesota, they are well versed and invested in kids and tennis. After all, they’ve been at it a long time. The Inner City Tennis organization, a capacity- building NJTL and CTA of USTA Northern located in Minneapolis, was established in 1952 to offer support, lessons, and programs.
In the late 1990s this non-profit group developed Kidspeed, a fast-moving, vibrant program that promotes athletic skill development in early childhood by participating in multiple activity stations. For the past two school years, as part of their outreach initiatives and through a grant from USTA Serves, Kidspeed volunteers have been joining the special education teachers at Hale Elementary School in Minneapolis to offer this unique program to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. It’s a winner!
Michele Glynn, a special-education teacher at Hale working with grades K-3, says she and her staff have seen extraordinary growth in the students’ learning in many ways:
- Children who generally aren’t curious about upcoming activities ask all week long, "When is tennis? Is it tennis Wednesday?"
- All the students have overcome lack of confidence and try all activities and have improved their skill levels. Often these children struggle with general PE classes and do not participate in outside sports.
- Relationship building skills have developed. The kids greet their coaches, cheer for each other, interact with high-fives and offer "good job!"
- They are learning and practicing life goals – taking turns, working as a team, cleaning up when finished.
- Parents report that their children are sharing information about their tennis activities at home and even illustrating skills learned. Rarely do autistic children talk about their school days with families.
Because there is a lack of play-based activities for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and it’s a challenge for families to find and get involved in anything other than school, Kidspeed has received overwhelming kudos from teachers, families and, most importantly, the children participating. Tennis has met a tremendous need and met it well. Even these kids who learn differently are finding themselves in the game!