Children with autism are acing tennis thanks to a unique program in Lalor specifically designed to meet their needs.
West Lalor Tennis Club head coach Yvonne Fantin has been running the Let’s Ace Autism junior tennis program for three years and is passionate about creating opportunities for autistic kids to be active.
“About four or five years ago I started working in special schools providing tennis programs there. I wanted to find ways to get kids to come from their school environment to be part of our tennis club,” Ms Fantin says.
“It’s something that I’m passionate about and my coaches are quite experienced working with kids with autism."
She has up to 40 students taking part in the Hot Shots classes at West Lalor, which are subsidised by Tennis Victoria and run on Tuesdays and Sundays using modified equipment such as softer balls.
“A lot of them can struggle with those larger-format sports, but the way we work is normally a maximum of six kids at a time on court,” she says.
“Some of those kids remain in that program and then some of them will go into our mainstream programs.”
Ms Fantin says the small class sizes and non-contact nature of the sport make it ideal for children who may become overwhelmed in larger groups.
She says tennis is a great way to improve hand-eye coordination and the program offers a pathway for autistic kids to play tennis for life.
“When they come along for their first session, we assess them in terms of their ability, where they would fit into the program,” she says.
“With our autism program we also allow parents or carers to come out on court.
“We understand if that’s what that child with autism needs, to have someone to support them, then we allow that.”
The Let’s Ace Autism three-week introductory program runs at West Lalor Tennis Club, 118 Kingsway Drive, Lalor, on Tuesdays and Sundays in February and classes are $5 each.