Brittany is currently ranked #1 for Special Olympic female tennis players in the world and is a professional tennis player.
By Ron Sandison
Twenty-eight year old Brittany Tagliareni (5′2″ & 103 pounds) is a little powerhouse on the tennis court. She has won over 100 medals and beat many of the top ranked Special Olympics males. Brittany’s accomplishments have been featured on CNN, ESPN and the Today Show. Her life is a testimony of God’s goodness and the power of parents who refuse to lose hope.
Brittany was non-speaking until age six and had difficulty with social interaction and eye contact. She never learned to babble or crawl. Apraxia caused Brittany to struggle formulating the sounds of words and understanding verbal instructions.
Her mom Cathy shares, “When Brittany was hurt or felt ill unlike most children she refused hugs, I was the only person able to touch her physically without her experiencing a meltdown. She experienced many sensory issues. Brittany did not like loud music or music that would come out of a certain speaker in our house. If she became over stimulated her body would become stiff and she would go up on her toes.”
At age three, Brittany was diagnosed on the autism spectrum with Pervasive Development Disorder (PDD). Cathy was determined to not let the diagnosis limit Brittany, “I just expected her to do the same things as any other baby. It was just going to take her a little bit longer.”
Cathy decided to home school Brittany to help her learn social skills. As a young child, Brittany’s only friend was her younger brother AJ and they did everything together. When AJ’s friends came over she interact with them but only for a few minutes at a time.
“Brittany played alongside AJ and his friends but never really interacted with them. She was in her own autistic land. Brittany was active in gymnastics and Tae Kwon Do because AJ was in those sports but would isolate to herself. Until she picked up a racket at age eighteen. After watching AJ play tennis Brittany became passionate for the sport and began to socialize with others. Tennis was a lifesaver—it helped her make friends and be a role model for other athletes,” Cathy shares.
When asked what would life be without tennis, Brittany quickly responds, “It would not be fun. I would not make new friends and I would not compete. Tennis is my passion and helps me grow up to be a better person and athlete. I like to travel around the world playing tennis. I like the medals and trophies. I love everything about it.”
Tennis prompted a dramatic improvement in Brittany’s gross and fine motor skills, her visual perception, and her processing skills and taught her to handle emotions. Through tennis Brittany is learning to adapt to situations she does not feel comfortable with and overcome life’s obstacles. Before a match, she needs help tying her shoes and putting her hair in a ponytail. Brittany’s greatest challenge to overcome is communication and change in routine—she still loves to escape into her room during social gatherings and stim.
In 2015, Brittany brought home the gold in singles and doubles tennis at the INAS World Tennis Championships and Special Olympics Florida State Championship. In July 2016, she competed in the Orlando United Double Tennis Open as a part of a Unified pair. Not only did she and her partner Ninan win gold, she was the only Special Olympics athlete invited to compete in the tournament. At the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games, she won two gold medals. In March 2019, she won two silver medals for high performance female and mixed double at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi.
Brittany is currently ranked #1 for female tennis players in the world for Special Olympics and is a professional tennis player. She has hit with legendary professional players like Andy Rodderick and Bob Bryan, a winner of twenty-three Grand Slam titles: 16 in men’s doubles and 7 in mixed doubles. “It was so fun playing with them at the Pro-Am tournament. Bob Bryan was so nice. We played doubles together. It was a great honor to play with him,” Brittany shared.
Tennis has allowed Brittany to travel around the world. She has competed in seven countries: Greece, Australia, France, Dominican Republic, England, United Arab Emirates, and Ecuador. Australia is Brittany’s favorite country, “I love the wildlife. Seeing kangaroos, wallabies, and adorable koalas. But most of all I love the tennis competition there.”
Autism empowers Brittany to vigorously prepare for her matches. She does strength training 3 days a weeks and plays tennis 5 to 6 days a week for 2 to 4 hours. In her free time, Brittany volunteers at Dogs Unlimited and enjoys staying active in the pool and at the beaches in Orlando, Florida. She also loves spending time with her four dogs.
Brittany’s goal is to keep improving her tennis skills and travel the world. Cathy shares, “We recently bought a café Nature’s Table to provide Brittany with steady employment.
Brittany works the cash register and is learning to count money, talk to customers, and interact better with people.”
Brittany encourages young adults with autism, “Believe in yourself and keep trying. I do not think any individual should be limited because of their disabilities. Autism is just a label but does not define a person. Every individual with autism is different and brings different talents and gifts to the world. I have overcome so much and continue to better myself each day on and off the court.”
Brittany has the competitive heart of a champion and the desire that burns within all world-class athletes to achieve their goals. These character traits serve her well as she refuses to allow her autism and its physical, mental, and communicative manifestations to keep her from pursuing her dream of becoming a World Champion Tennis Player. Website: www.brittanytagliareni.com
Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of American. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes.
He frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016. You can contact Ron at his website www.spectruminclusion.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org