In 2010, Philippe Manning’s long-time dream came true when he established a tennis-focused program for children with autism spectrum disorder. Manning holds a graduate degree in psychology with a concentration on sports and autism, and has a particular interest in how participation in sports can help the social and physical development of children with special needs.

Proset Autism offers after-school adapted tennis programming to children aged six and up who have autism spectrum disorder as well as those with ADHD and Down syndrome. Participants use specialized tennis equipment such as bigger and softer balls, shorter racquets, smaller court dimensions, and lower nets that make it easier to learn basic tennis skills with success. Participants receive individualized instruction that allows them to progress at their own pace as they advance through the four designated levels of play.

Proset Autism combines the development of tennis skills with the teaching of five core life skills: joint attention, motivation, fine and gross motor skill development, participation, and socialization. Manning finds the overstimulating sensory environment and high instructor to student ratio associated with team sports to often be a barrier for youth with autism and other special needs, so he uses the individuality of tennis to provide a positive and productive atmosphere for participants to learn and succeed.

Partnering with Autism Speaks Canada, Jumpstart, and the Cities of Ottawa and Montreal, Proset Autism began in Montreal and has grown to offer programming in six locations in the cities of Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto. The program also provides an opportunity for previous participants (teens and young adults) to continue their involvement by working as assistant instructors, gaining valuable leadership skills and self-confidence through their ability to lead and relate to the younger students.

Tennis Canada had the pleasure of attending a Proset Autism session to celebrate Autism Awareness Month in April. The enthusiastic young tennis players were engaged in developing basic skills through activities and games. Of her young son, one mother says she is “looking forward to continue seeing him progress not only in his tennis skills but also his abilities to communicate and play with the other kids.” A teacher whose class of young adults with developmental delays previously participated in the program says, “Our students all enjoyed the sessions and took something away with them, whether it was more confidence in playing a game or learning that they could do something they thought they couldn’t.” About Manning, she added that “his personality is warm and he related to our students very quickly and easily. With care and determination, he won over even the most non-athletic of our students.”

Manning has already seen his dream of inclusive sport programming come to fruition; he still hopes to be even more inclusive and inviting of those with other disabilities, and to increase awareness of the Proset Autism program across the country.

For more information, visit the Proset Autism website at https://specialneedssport.ca/.