Adaptive tennis serves athletes with disabilities

Highland Park teen with autism breaks down barriers on the court

Jasmine Minor Image
Friday, February 2, 2024
Adaptive tennis serves athletes with disabilities
As adaptive tennis serves many athletes with disabilities, a Highland Park teen with autism is using his skills on the court to break down barriers.

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. (WLS) -- A Highland Park teen with autism is breaking down barriers on the tennis court.

The sport has seen a rise in adaptive tennis for those with disabilities in the Chicagoland area.

In the Chicagoland area, there's been a 60% increase in the number of adaptive tennis programs over the last six months, and 40 new providers are now offering adaptive tennis over the same time period, according to the United States Tennis Association.

When teen tennis player Beck Saltzman was younger, his parents had to bribe him to pick up a racquet. But then he fell in love.

"I love to play tennis," Saltzman said. "I don't need to get paid anymore."

The now 14-year-old said that he can't take money for something he can't get enough of. These days, he's on a court seven days a week.

"Having autism... he faces a lot of struggles, and we really wanted him to find something that would give him confidence and help him physically, emotionally," Beck's mother, Staci Saltzman, said.

"It gives me something that I feel like I'm good at," Beck said.

Over 65,000 athletes nationwide are being served through adaptive tennis, according to the United States Tennis Association Chicago. About 90% of the athletes are those with cognitive or developmental abilities.

"A lot of autistic people learn visually and repetition is really important. And tennis is nothing but repetition, you know, ball after ball," CDTA Executive Director Jill Siegal said.

In adaptive tennis, people will change the types of balls they use, the size of the court and sometimes even allow a double bounce, but Beck likes to play with standard rules.

"I just like to play my game," Beck said.

The young athlete has also knocked down obstacles everywhere else. Whether it's making more friends or soaring in school, tennis is helping him dismiss old anxieties.

"Tennis is the only thing that he'll read with no anxiety and reads about it every day," Staci said.

Beck reads, watches and studies his favorite players, like Novak Djokovic.

He's training more and preparing for the day he becomes a network commentator, staying close to the place he feels the most at home.

"I feel more special when I play tennis," Beck said. "Your dreams do come true."