Why Playing Table Tennis Is Good For Children With Autism?
Did you know that playing table tennis is considered to be very good for children with autism and similar disorders? Like most people, you probably have many happy memories of playing table tennis in school or college. Table tennis tables are easy to set up, and can be placed in a driveway, hall or spare room.
All you need is a pair of racquets and a ball to get started, and this simple equipment is quite affordable. Table tennis or ping pong is a lot of fun, but what you probably didn’t know is that this simple game has a number of benefits for mental health.
Table tennis is often referred to as a “brain sport” because it activates the different parts of the brain and stimulates increased awareness. It makes you more alert, mentally sharp and improves focus and decision-making.
Table tennis for special-needs children
What makes table tennis so beneficial for mental health is that it sharpens motor functions, improves long-term memory and fine-motor control. You are forced to concentrate and focus on the game as it is very unpredictable and is played at a high speed, which requires a lot of physical and mental agility.
Playing table tennis is also good for hand-eye coordination, which improves the functioning of the cerebellum and the motor cortex for special children.
For these reasons, table tennis is considered good for children who have conditions such as autism, dyslexia and ADHD. It can be used to detect early signs of these disorders in small children as well. Table tennis is widely used by experts in workshops with children with autism, ADHD and dyslexia and other disabilities. It has been found to improve children’s social and motor skills, explains Rob Bernstein, an autism specialist.
Dr. Bernstein says, “Ping-Pong provides the perfect opportunity for me to help these kids deal with social interactions. They have to be able to say ‘nice shot’ when an opponent gets a point, ask someone new to play—even just learn how to play by the rules.”
Table tennis for autistic kids with autism
Children with special needs have been found to play table tennis with a lot of enthusiasm and a spirit of cooperation. They learn to give as much as they take, and find it easier to connect with others over the game. Not only is table tennis a lot of fun for them, it is also a very social activity where they get to interact with other children and make lots of new friends.
There have been a number of studies, such as a 1997 study in Japan, which has talked at length about the benefits of table tennis for people with various brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Other benefits include:
- Playing ping pong, according to the study, improves brain function and increases awareness in older people.
- It is also one of the best treatments for depression.
- a massive improvement in the frontal lobes of the brain.
- This helps them make better decisions, improves their problem-solving ability and inspires them to make a range of voluntary movements.
Children with autism love table tennis because it makes them feel “normal” and allows them to compete with absolutely anyone. Kids with ASD sometimes have a special talent for table tennis. They tend to become very good at it.
Autistic children’s love for table tennis
There are some who have even gone on to represent their country in the Olympics and other international tournaments, such as 19-year-old Belgian Florian Van Acker, a Belgian athlete who has carried Belgium to the highest level of table tennis worldwide. Number 1 in the world rankings, he became Paralympic Champion in Class 11 (Intellectual Disability) during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. In 2015, he became European Champion in Class 11 and in 2014 he made his debut in the World Championships, taking home a bronze medal. An interview with him is quoted at the end of this article.
Playing table tennis with children suffering from autism is a great way to teach them how to have fun, laugh and enjoy the occasion. This helps them to improve their communication skills and build stronger relationships with the people around them, including their peers, which is so important. They love the challenge of being in a competitive environment and love winning. This gives them the self-confidence they need to take on challenges in other aspects of their life as well, which goes well beyond table tennis.
Finally, as a parent, it is important to emphasize to your child that it is okay to lose. There is nothing wrong with losing a point, or a game. The important thing is to keep playing and enjoying the game, to have fun and make new friends.
Rimtimmers recommend the following autistic centres:
Action For AutismAddress: The National Centre for Autism, Pocket 7 & 8, Jasola Vihar, New Delhi- 110025
Phone No: +91-11-40540991
Ashiana Institute for Children with AutismAddress: Nityanand Marg, Municipal School, Opp. Garware Plastics, Sahar Road, Andheri (E), Mumbai- 400069
Phone No: +91-22-26845062
Apoorva Center For AutismAddress: #174, 2nd Phase, JP Nagar, Bengaluru – 560040
Phone No: +91-8762780445
Development Center for Children with AutismAddress: Dhanalaxmi bank building, Beside more supermarket, Vivekannda Nagar Colony, Main Road, Hyderabad
Phone No: +91-8008887795/97
SwabodhniAddress: Rajagopalan 2nd Street, 1st Seaward Road, Valmiki Nagar, Thiruvanmiyur, Chennai – 600041
Phone No: +91-44-24452485
Mother and Child CareAddress: #564, J R Ghosh Garden (Bagan), P. O. Laskarpur, Garia, Mahamayatala 24 PARAGNAS (SOUTH), Kolkata – 700153
Phone No: +91-33-40078889
AshadeepAddress: Piya Apartments, Kanaklata Path, Lachitnagar, Guwahati, Assam – 781007
Phone No: +91-361-2456837
Sambhav School for Autism & Multiple DisabilityAddress: #28 Kasturba Nagar, Nirman Nagar, Jaipur – 302019
Phone No: +91-141-3155580
An interview with Florian Van Acker mentioned above, and how table tennis has helped him is reproduced here from:
Autism-Europe: What does it mean for you to have won a Paralympic gold medal in Rio?
Florian van Acker: It’s a dream come true, that’s what it means to me. It’s an incredible feeling, like the excitement of a child the day before the start of the summer holidays.
AE: Tell us about your experience in Rio
FvA: I went to Rio a week before the Paralympics, to gradually get used to my environment, the Olympic Village, my room, and so on. It is not easy for a person with autism to get out of his usual environment, especially in a stressful context. I had time to discover the venue where we were going to play and train. During my second week there, I mainly rested. I ate and went to bed at fixed times.
AE: What is your experience as a player in the “ordinary circuit”?
FvA: It’s very positive, but it was not easy at first. Because of my autism and my slight mental handicap, it is not always easy for me to join a group of people who don’t know me. They do not see that I have a disability. I have been playing table tennis for 9 years now in a standard category. It is thanks to the help and patience of William, a friend and member of the Board of Directors at my first club who taught me to play table tennis and who believed in my abilities, that I have been able to gain confidence and recognition.
AE: What sports do you practice and why is table tennis your favorite?
FvA: For the time being, I only play table tennis and, to relax, I go cycling as well. I also like horseback riding. I did it a lot in the past but I stopped for lack of time and for fear of falling and hurting my hands. I also did judo and played basketball, but the rules were too complicated so I stopped. Basketball was especially difficult because it is a team sport that constantly requires you to take account of the other people in the game. In table tennis, there is Although it may sound strange, I also like the fact that the ball goes back and forth, always with the same effect, like a pattern it repeats.
AE: What does being autistic mean for you?
FvA: With age, I understand better who I am and what I am like. I know that I am not always easy, but I am able to talk about it and I do not consider myself inferior to others, merely different. Thanks to my success in the world of sport, I feel equal to others. If someone does not accept me or is unpleasant towards me because they do not know me, in this case my mind is made up about them, and I decide to have nothing more to do with them. I stick with those who remain by my side. It is not always easy and sometimes I lose my temper.
AE: What are the difficulties you come across as an autistic person?
FvA: Trying to overcome the chaos and pressure I sometimes feel by concentrating on sport and taking myself off to my room to listen to some quiet music; hoping that there will not be too many changes to the day’s plans and, if so, learning to accept that some things are not possible or are inevitable.
Florian is the adopted son of the Belgian couple Eric and Dora Van Acker-Debedts. Florian was abandoned shortly after his birth in Romania. He spent the first years after his birth in an orphanage and a transitional foster family. Florian was 3 and a half years old when he arrived in Belgium.
Dora Debedts recounts her experience in an interview with Sports Magazine: “He was active, impulsive, agitated. At first, we thought that this agitation and tension was due to his stay at the orphanage. At the beginning, we had not considered other possible reasons, especially knowing that at the age of two Florian could not yet walk, ate no solid food, and spent most of his time in a small bed.
Later, my husband and I thought that his dynamism was linked to his thirst for discovery or an emotional need. We assumed that his IQ, slightly below average, was either hereditary or due to the neglect and lack of love that he suffered at the very beginning of his life. (…) Due to his intellectual or cognitive impairment, he is limited in his communication, autonomy and social interaction. At school, if something did not interest him, he would close his book, and that was it, full stop. He agreed to make a little effort only if he liked his teacher. Fortunately, this evolved positively over the years. “
AE: Has sport helped you to cope with your autism?
FvA: Thanks to sport I am calmer and I have more confidence in my abilities.
AE: What things do you enjoy doing when you are not practicing sport?
FvA: Listening to music and watching films.
AE: What new challenges have you set yourself?
FvA: To win the 2018 World Championships in my category. I already have the bronze medal, now I hope to win a gold. I would then have the first-place medal at the Paralympic Games, the World Championships and the European Championships.
AE: Do you have a message for other autistic people out there?
FvA: First and foremost, believe in yourself and those who support you, help you and believe in you, especially your parents who know you the best, but also your friends and all those who want what’s best for you. People with autism very easily recognize people who have good intentions and those who don’t. My motto, “never give up” is as relevant to sport as it is to life in general.