Upper Arlington City Schools News Article

Capstone Spotlight: Isabella Sanfillipo, Extracurriculars / Sports and Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder


Throughout this project, I was guided by the question: What is currently known about the effects of participating in extracurriculars and sports on children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)? I wanted to apply the knowledge I had acquired from my research and focus on developing an in-depth understanding as to what extent these programs could pose as treatment for certain aspects of autism.
Working with my mentor, Mike Haddow, I was given the opportunity to teach the sport of tennis through my community’s Special Olympics program. My primary goal was to determine what children with ASD would take away from extracurriculars such as team sports. Thus, I worked with the Upper Arlington Special Olympics to fulfill my goals while taking a new approach to a sport I love. 

Why did this focus interest you?
My Capstone brought together two activities I enjoy: playing tennis and volunteering for Special Olympics. Since I had such a great and fun experience volunteering with the swimming team, I thought I’d also volunteer for the Special Olympics tennis team since I play myself. My mentor, Mike Haddow, allowed me to be an assistant coach with him, and that gave me the opportunity to further my knowledge on the question that guided my research paper. 

My main objective was to observe and learn how the children benefited with each practice: both with mastering the sport and alleviating common aspects associated with ASD. I wanted to see if engaging in a team sport would lead to decreases in stereotypical/repetitive behaviors in the students, and if it would encourage inclusion or communication among teammates. Teaching the tennis season would allow me to observe what barriers existed in participation in sports among children with ASD as well as the benefits.

How does this project bookend your academic experience at the high school?
I knew this project was going to be a bit of a challenge given it was something I had never done before. During my work, I was forced out of my comfort zone several times and encountered obstacles as well. However, I’m thankful that this experience has taught me to take risks and pursue things I may view as unattainable. This project assesses a combination of skills overall, which is why I think it really prepared me for the kinds of studies and work I will be doing in the future. I definitely recommend a project like this for others as I enjoyed it a lot, and it was a perfect way to conclude my high school career.

About the Senior Capstone Project
The Senior Capstone Project is the culmination of each student’s academic experience at Upper Arlington High School. This is a genuine way for seniors to merge their interests, passions and curiosities with their academic goals. Seniors are given the opportunity to demonstrate the autonomy, complexity and uniqueness of their Senior Capstone Project both in a written format and through the oral presentation of their project before high school peers and teachers. 

We welcome community ideas for our seniors. Please feel free to submit those ideas by filling out this online form.

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