Wellington is site of one of Florida's two programs using tennis to teach those with autism

WELLINGTON, Fla - It's a  sunny morning on the tennis courts at the International Polo Club in Wellington and  Aceing Autism  is in full swing.

"Come on Peter, back and swing, watch it," says instructor Lisa Pugliese with a laugh.

She's  a former professional tennis player who's become a  speech therapist for youngsters on the autism spectrum.

"I think they really feel they've accomplished something, being able to swing a tennis racquet and hit a ball," she says during a lesson with the students.

This is the only program of its kind in South Florida combining tennis with autism.  When they started it three years ago, it put the tennis pros and staff to the test.

"It's really an amazing experience it's not an easy one, it's a lot of work," said Paul Hope, the director of tennis at the International Polo Club.

The youngsters can easily be overwhelmed with too much information, so the teachers have to find ways for these youngsters to follow instructions. 

"Skyler go, red, red, red," Pugliese shouts to one of the youngsters, directing her to the colored rings on the ground as a way of making instructions fun.

Eight-year-old Oliver Branneky is one of those youngsters running on the court.  He's been in Aceing Autism  for two years. His mother says before tennis, he would play next to other children, but not with them.

"He's definitely improved his teamwork and his ability to follow orders, and he enjoys playing with other children more," said his mother, Emily.

Interacting with others is one the obstacles for those on the autism spectrum.  Through tennis, some of the youngsters are showing signs of crossing that obstacle.

"I think it's improved their self-confidence and self-esteem that they can try something like everyone else, and they can be part of a team that accepts them for who they are," said Pugliese.

Aceing Autism is looking  to start similar programs in Boca Raton and Delray Beach.


 

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