By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
MARGATE – A new program geared toward children with autism “meets them where they are,” Margate special education teacher Lisa Drexler said.
The program developed in Massachusetts in 2008 teaches children ages 5-18 how to play tennis.
“The adaptive curriculum helps with attention span and allows children to get involved in a sport,” she said.
ACEing Autism is a national nonprofit that helps children with autism grow, develop social skills and stay fit through tennis.
Drexler said when she saw a news report on TV about the program, which has grown to 131 programs in 34 states, she instinctively knew she wanted to bring it to Margate. After speaking with Margate Recreation Director Andrew Miles, he immediately agreed to bring it to the tennis courts on Jerome Avenue.
“We are organizing it and taking signups and recruiting volunteers, and the Rec Department is offering us the courts,” she said.
The program will be held 2-3 p.m. Saturdays from Sept. 9 to Oct. 14, except for Sept. 23 when it will be held on Sunday, Sept. 24.
“It’s like the Heart of Surfing or Field of Dreams,” Drexler said. “It’s just one more thing we can add to improve the lives of children diagnosed with autism.”
Participants do not have to be residents of Margate and can come from any town, she said.
Parents can go to aceingautism.org to register their child and tell the organization a little about them. There is a $120 fee for the six-week program, but scholarships are available for those who cannot afford the fee, she said.
Drexler, a special education teacher at the Eugene A. Tighe Middle school, has been working with children with special needs for 21 years.
“It’s a passion of mine,” she said. “I love helping them grow.”
Her husband Chris Drexler, a board certified pediatrician working at CHOP Primary Care in Harborview, Cape May County who played tennis when he attended St. Joseph’s University, is bringing his tennis skills to the program.
Although the national organization makes it easy to develop a program locally, it’s the volunteers who make it successful, Drexler said.
Volunteers can be high school students with parental permission or adults. No tennis experience or experience working with children with autism is required. The national organization performs background checks on all the volunteers.
A volunteer will be paired with a player based on their individual needs “so we can meet them where they are,” Drexler said.
“Volunteers are important, and we cannot run the program without them,” she said.
They should be caring individuals with a passion for giving back to the community.
To date, the program has signed up four players and eight volunteers, “but we can take up to 10 children at this time,” she said.
The program requires at least 20 volunteers to suit player needs and accommodate volunteer schedules.
Drexler said she hopes the program takes off and gets a good reception in the community.
“We are sticking with keeping it in Margate,” she said. “The way they are set up, the courts are conducive to doing this type of program, and the children will have their own space.”
The recreation complex includes a tennis shack and restrooms.
Anyone interested in finding out more about volunteering, can email their interest to email@example.com.
To register a player, see https://aceingautism.org/programs/margate-nj/
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