As Samer Majeed walked through the halls at Southern Methodist University, he saw a bulletin board with a flyer that had a program called ACEing Autism.
The flyer made him think of his sister, who is autistic, and how much value such a program can bring to children’s lives. He decided Fort Worth needed a chapter.
ACEing Autism is a national organization founded by Richard Spurling and Dr. Shafali Jeste in the summer of 2008 to help children with autism connect through tennis.
How to join the ACEing Autism program
To join, parents can register online at https://aceingautism.org/locations/fort-worth-tx/.
To volunteer, email email@example.com.
2021 Program Dates: Sept. 26, Oct. 3, 10, 12, 31, and Nov. 7, 14 at the Bayard H. Friedman Tennis Center at TCU: 3609 Bellaire Drive North.
Ages 5-8 meet 1-1:30 p.m. The cost is $70.
Ages 9-18 meet 1:45-2:45 p.m. The cost is $140.
Majeed, 21, a student at SMU, met with Adrienne Bransky, the program director for ACEing Autism, Dallas, in January.
“I’ve always been – not by my own choosing – I’ve been surrounded by all sorts of different kinds of opportunities or around the special education community,” Majeed said.
Finding new activities for people with autism motivates Majeed. And he is a tennis player, he said. The program checks both boxes.
When Majeed went out to the program in Dallas and spoke to the director and said he wanted to volunteer there to see what it’s about he asked the director if there is a Fort Worth program. He was curious because there’s not a lot of programming in Fort Worth for kids.
Bransky explained she had been trying to get a program in the Fort Worth area for several years, but they hadn’t found someone.
“I thought this could be really really big, and so Adrienne really helped me get off my feet and showed me everything that I needed to know,” Majeed said. “I still have a lot more to learn.”
Majeed started the program in early 2020. The first session was in March with six participants and 12 volunteers.
Melina Kopischkie, program director for ACEing Autism in Fort Worth, also helped Majeed get the program started.
“As soon as we were introduced, I noticed Majeed’s work ethic,” said Kopischkie. “He was a good resource and very ambitious when it came to starting the program.”
At this point, Majeed realized the program was something special and the participants doubled to 20, he said. Now the group has up to 50 volunteers.
“It’s just been a real pleasure, and something I take a lot of pride into,” Majeed said.
To get the program up and running, there was a lot of research done on the national level to meet the children’s needs and wants.
“Volunteers have to be trained on what kind of behavior you are going to end up seeing by individuals on the spectrum, what drives their behavior, and how you work with them when that behavior shows up,” Bransky said.
It is a seven-step program, starting with the volunteers meeting the participants and their parents.
After introductions the program leaders like to get the participants up and moving with a dynamic warm-up, taking a lap around the tennis court, stretching, and some eye-hand coordination techniques with the tennis racket.
“They usually do these activities with the volunteers, but they encourage participants to work with other participants,” Majeed said. “A lot of the parents want to see their child get along with the other children.”
Majeed already can see pairs of friends who met through the program, he said.
Majeed’s sister was about 3 or 4 years old when she was diagnosed. He is two years older.
“I realized that she wasn’t quite like everyone else, and that’s when I really fell in love with medicine,” Majeed said.
He is on the pre-medical track and plans to apply for medical school in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He went to Trinity Valley School in Fort Worth for high school.
At the time, Majeed said, he didn’t know if he wanted to work with others like his sister, but as he was surrounded by different kinds of doctors and psychiatrists and saw how they were willing to help, it was something he decided would be rewarding.
“That’s been my plan and biggest goal,” Majeed said. “I pray to God every night that I get accepted into a medical school here in the DFW area, so that I can actually continue directing the program and continue to let the program grow.”
He wants to attract new participants and new families to become part of the ACEing Autism family and serve as many children as they can. Unfortunately, he said, his sister can’t be a part of the ACEing Autism program.
Majeed’s sister is nonverbal and can’t receive verbal communication in a way that allows her to perform in a desired behavior. She can eat on her own, but she can’t prepare her food or signal that she is hungry.
“She does go to equine therapy, though, and the few times I was able to go with her has been the best thing,” Majeed said. “She isn’t in a special education classroom and so it’s stimulating for her and she enjoys it.”
Majeed’s experiences growing up allows him to believe in providing opportunities. People don’t realize how much the kids need them.
“I really would love to see in three or four years how far some of these kids have come with tennis, their social skills, and see what kind of people they can be. It’s just a beautiful thing,” Majeed said. “I’ve really fallen in love with this program, and it’s like my baby.”
Fort Worth Report fellow Lonyae Coulter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.