Vanderbilt sports camp helps kids with autism develop skills - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

Vanderbilt sports camp helps kids with autism develop critical skills


A sports camp at Vanderbilt University is about much more than just the game of tennis. It's being used to help kids with autism develop and sharpen their social skills.

Emma Risko, 10, has been playing tennis with the group ACEing Autism for about two years, and she never misses a session.

"She's definitely opened up. I think you can see that here," said her father, Mason Risko.

Organizers use the game to help children with autism not only stay in shape, but also work on communication and social skills.

"A lot of the participants shy away from it, because they think learning tennis is hard, and when you're 8 years old it can be intimidating. But I've seen faces who in the last two years have progressed through the program, and they look forward to coming every Sunday," said program founder Chandler Semjen.

It's part one-on-one instruction, along with group warm ups, racket drills and games.

Emma's dad says it's made a clear difference in her life

"I've had people at her school tell me she describes in detail how forehand and backhands work. She enjoys doing it and sharing it with people outside of the activity," Mason Risko said.

And that's what it's about - helping these kids learn to share their passion and experience with others.

"They're just kids looking to have fun. It's a really enriching experience to be able to share the moment where they get it, where they finally hit that forehand over the net, smile and look to their parents and say, 'Mom, I did it!' That's very important," Semjen said.

The program just finished up its fall session but is already slated to be back in the spring. For more information, visit:

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