Tennis is a social sport because an individual must play against an opponent in singles competition and share a team with a partner for doubles. Many of our program participants would prefer to play tennis alone but they are taught the rules and format, for both at the beginning of each program. The more advanced players who learn to rally against an opponent quickly learn to enjoy the repetitive engagement and are less anxious each time they compete with others in the sport.
Receptive and expressive language skills are demonstrated through requesting and commenting while playing the sport. For individuals on the autism spectrum who are non-verbal, the use of visuals and communication technology are essential components for communication success. Approximately 30 percent of our tennis program participants are non-verbal and require a communication system to assist with expressing their wants and needs. For example, one of the tennis participants brings her classroom iPad to an after-school tennis program. She opens the ProLoquo app and initiates communication and answers staff questions by selecting core vocabulary. When she needs a water break, this student selects “water” on her iPad, takes a water break for a few minutes, then returns to the class.
Tennis develops discipline for routines, which is typically a very strong trait for individuals with ASD. As a collegiate and professional player myself, I developed a strict routine before each tennis match to physically and mentally prepare for my competition. The routine also decreased anxiety and increased my confidence before tournaments. Tennis provides a therapeutic outlet to reduce stress. If a program participant displays frustration or anxiety, we often teach the child or adult to take deep breaths or to run a few laps around the tennis court for self-regulation. Once the participant is ready again to participate in the tennis program, he/she is invited to join the group.
Tennis is a sport full of life’s lessons. It teaches individuals with ASD about valuable life skills. A few life skills we teach during the tennis program include integrity, sportsmanship, leadership, responsibility, perseverance and confidence. We teach one life skill per week for after-school and community-based tennis programs. The goal is for the tennis program participants to learn new life skills and for these skills to generalize into the home, school and community environments which is essential for functional independence and overall well-being.
I truly encourage children and adults with autism to engage in the sport of tennis for it’s life-long therapeutic benefits, both on and off the tennis court. For additional information about the benefits of tennis for individuals with autism, please contact: Lisa@loveservingautism.orgAbout Lisa Pugliese
Lisa Pugliese (Palm Beach Gardens, Florida) was named the USPTA Star Award of recipient for her work with her company, Love Serving Autism. For 14 years, she has specialized in the evaluation and treatment of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Her organization has provided tennis classes to 250 children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders.