ACEing Autism creates a safe space to learn and play for children on the autistic spectrum

Small child with tennis racket stares at ball thrown by instructor
Neal Chulani PO ’26 helps children on the autistic spectrum practice their spikes and get comfortable with the game of tennis. Courtesy: Rohun Krishnan

The tennis career of Rohun Krishnan PO ’24 at Pomona-Pitzer (P-P) extends far beyond the courts south of Sixth Street. ACEing Autism, a national organization, has planted roots in Claremont thanks to the work of Krishnan and his peers, serving children in the Inland Empire on the autism spectrum.

ACEing Autism provides a gateway into social fitness and helps children on the autism spectrum foster relationships in their own community while building lifelong skills. Krishnan and his team are facilitating a tennis program through the P-P athletic department through the first six weeks of the fall semester. Krishnan and ACEing Autism emphasize the love of the game over the intensity of competition.

“It’s more for fun than [about] learning how to play tennis … they can interact with their peers and interact with us,” Krishnan said.

Krishnan began working with the organization in high school and established a connection between ACEing Autism and the Colleges after arriving at the 5Cs.

“[ACEing Autism has] branches at different high schools across the country, but they’ve just started expanding into colleges,” Krishnan said.

ACEing Autism got its start in Claremont with help from the P-P athletics department in collaboration with other autism-focused resources on and off campus. Krishnan’s co-director Matthew Feng PO ’24 explained the process in bringing the organization to the 5Cs.

“We contacted the ACEing Autism heads … Justin Belisario and Rachel Miskei and got the clearance [to bring the organization to the colleges],” Feng said. “They were nice enough to provide us with rackets and balls and [the] different equipment that we might use.”

Krishnan and his teammates quickly worked to recruit volunteers from the Sagehen tennis teams and beyond. Neal Chulani PO ’26, a player on the Sagehens men’s tennis team, described the volunteers’ approach to coaching.

“We have a lot of the guys in the [ACEing Autism] team who like to kind of just participate … and that also meshes well with people with more experience [working] with autism,” Chulani said.

According to Anna Prewitt PO ’24, who works as the head of operations for the Claremont branch of ACEing Autism, volunteering is a straightforward process available to all 5C students. The organization holds training sessions so that volunteers not only feel confident coaching tennis, but also working with kids on the autism spectrum.

“One of the things that stuck with me is you have to be really specific about your feedback. Saying [just] ‘good job’ might be a little confusing for somebody” Prewitt said. “[Instead you should say,] ‘good job hitting that shot the court’ or ‘good job saying thank you to this other kid.’”

Although the organization’s time in Claremont has not been long, volunteers have already made lasting connections and memories with the kids they work with.

“My favorite thing is when kids come back and they reform [their] friendships [made in the program],” Prewitt said. “They look so excited to see other people, not only volunteers, but also the other kids that they saw last time.”

In addition to the strong memories volunteers have made from working with ACEing Autism, Krishnan and Feng maintained that the experience of spending their Sunday afternoon with the kids and fellow volunteers is priceless.

“I think everyone is just so incredibly happy when we get on court … getting to chat with these kids who have no cares in the world … [and] just want to come out and play has been the best part of this experience,” Krishnan said.

To learn more about the organization, you can visit ACEing Autism’s website through the accompanying QR code. To get into contact with the Claremont branch, you can also reach out to their email address:

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