PHOENIX — ACEing Autism — it's the Valley tennis organization that's helping students with autism do more than just perfect their serves!
If you're up for a challenge on the tennis court, look no further than 15-year-old Marinda Moran.
"Don't worry, I play easy!" she told me.
But that's not what her parents say...
"She's a formidable opponent!"
Matt and Linda Moran say they've noticed quite a change in their daughter since she picked up a racket four years ago, and it's more than just bettering her sports skills.
"She's much more talkative. Much more confidence. The willingness to take more risks than she normally would," explains her mom, Linda.
These are huge accomplishments for any teenager, especially a teenager like Marinda who is navigating a world that doesn't always see her for who she is.
"Sure, because they don't understand and they're thinking we're bad parents because we can't control your kid. They don't realize. You can't look at a child and realize they have autism."
And that's where ACEing Autism comes in — it's a non-profit organization that translates tennis skills into life skills, teaching everything from social skills to coordination, learning confidence, and just getting out of their comfort zones. They use tennis to help kids on the spectrum connect with each other, connect with their communities, and most importantly, connect with themselves.
Chad Campbell is the director of the Valley chapter of ACEing Autism, who told ABC15 he hopes they're changing lives.
"We're playing tennis but what we're really trying to do is create social opportunities, create language opportunities, get people who may not have an exposure to autism to work with kids with autism. So now all these young kids who are volunteering are going to go back -- that barrier has been lowered."
Every week, this is where you'll find Marinda — here at Arcadia High School. Her volunteer coach helps her perfect that backhand in a space where the only rule is to be as you are.
"I don't have to worry about anything," said Marinda, when I asked if she feels safe and not worried about being judged in the space.
Marinda's parents say that level of acceptance for any child with autism is priceless.
"It doesn't matter if a kid erupts and runs off and gets sensory overload. It doesn't matter. They're accepted here," says Linda.
"You can experience everything you wanted to," explains Marinda.