PLEASANTVILLE, N.Y. For most, table tennis is a recreational sport or hobby. For educational therapist Robert Bernstein, it is used as a therapeutic vehicle for children with Asperger's and other social disabilities.
"These children have a developmental gap, and I'm trying to bridge that gap," Bernstein said. "You can't just teach it like a curriculum though, it needs to be taught in some sort of context in a real situation.
That is why Bernstein, of Ardsley, uses table tennis as part of his table tennis therapy. Every Monday, Bernstein meets with children of all ages with social disabilities at the Westchester Table Tennis Center in Pleasantville to not only teach them skills in the game, but also how to interact with each other. Bernstein specializes in autism and social disorders and believes that there are many aspects of the game that can help children socially.
"There's so much going on in table tennis with the other person, you need to check before you serve if the other person is ready, when the volley is over who goes and gets the ball, if they have a nice shot, do you praise them?" Bernstein said.
During the hour and a half long sessions, Bernstein gives the children tips and constructive criticisms on how to properly play the game and socially interact with their partner. However, he admits that in the larger scale, the goal is to improve their disability, not table tennis skills. After each session, he tries to speak with the parents in order to give them reports on the progress the children make.
This form of recreational therapy is a new approach for Bernstein and he believes it is the only form of therapy of its kind in the United States. The idea came to him after being an avid table tennis player himself and becoming a certified table tennis instructor.
"Recreation can be the best way for kids with learning issues to improve on those issues," Bernstein said. "It's important to look at all the different dynamics of the game and start making a fundamental difference.
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.