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My experiences volunteering at ACEing Autism

By Jon Ostrowsky

Section: Sports

November 13, 2009

For about a year I have volunteered on Saturday afternoons at ACEing Autism, a non-profit organization that teaches tennis to young children with autism.

When I first signed up for the program, I didn’t know anything about autism, but I thought that the idea of helping young children learn to play tennis sounded like a fun way to give back to my favorite sport.

Last fall, I started helping out at the program during a time when I was very busy. Or, at least by my standards I was. It was my senior year of high school and I was busy with schoolwork, SAT’s, tennis tournaments, and college applications. Yet for some reason I decided to fit another activity into my schedule.

I realized very quickly not only was I able to help other children, but also the program provided an escape from my so called “hectic” life. It meant two hours on Saturday afternoons where all I had to do was run around with young kids and teach them the game I knew so well. It was an escape, a relief, a break from the everyday busyness and hurry of my life.

I enjoy the program because it is a challenge, and for each kid it is different. For some, the goal is to get them hitting a few balls in a row over the net, and for others the goal is simply to get them to stand still and swing the racquet, even if they do not make contact.

One week last year, I spent 30 minutes out of the 45-minute clinic chasing the child around the court, calling his name, simply trying to get him to stand still, so I could give him directions.

As his father came out on the court to try to help me, it was then that I realized what he has to go through each day. He loves his son unconditionally, but clearly having a child with autism presents challenges to a parent. There is an enormous amount of time and attention that must be devoted to helping the child focus and pay attention.

And suddenly I realized that compared to these parents, my life really wasn’t that hectic. They have a lot more to deal with, and from what I can tell, they are doing a remarkable job raising happy and caring children.

I thought about what it would be like teaching those two 45 minute clinics 24 hours a day seven days a week, and realized that is what these parents live with. They are truly unbelievable people to be able to sacrifice so much time out of their own personal life so that their children can have the best experiences possible.

Each week that I go to ACEing Autism, I learn something new about the kid I am working with, and what helps them focus best. I try to teach them as much as I can about tennis and make sure that they have fun as well.

But it seems that they have taught me a far more important lesson. I have learned that my life is not nearly as busy as it seems compared to others lives in society, like their parents.

Most of the children at this program are too young to know what autism is, and clearly it doesn’t bother them. They run and laugh and play the entire clinic, and are forever grateful for what they have.

It seems they have far more to teach me than I can teach them. Maybe it’s time I stopped complaining about how busy I am.

Maybe it’s time to be grateful for what I have.

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