Surfing and autism

Lori Saczynski


Andy’s love for surfing was born when he moved to Florida right before third grade. It’s frustrating to be a surfer on the Florida panhandle, where surfable waves are few and far between. Around here, you take what you can get.

So, although the surfing community has been resistant to SUP, Andy embraced it a few years ago. Although his first love will always be surfing, paddleboarding (and paddle surfing) offers a good alternative when the Gulf of Mexico is flat, which is more often than not. When the waves are only suitable for a G.I Joe doll, you’ll likely find Andy on his YOLO board. It’s become a great substitute for the lack of waves around here in the following ways…

1) A paddleboard gives you an opportunity to see wildlife more easily from a standing position. Dolphins and sea turtles are almost close enough to touch, an experience Andy has almost every time he goes out.
2) It’s a full-body workout! Andy didn’t develop those abs while sitting on a surfboard patiently awaiting the next set to come in.
3) Paddleboarding is a great way to introduce surfing to young children, because the board is more stable under their feet than a surfboard would be. Which leads me to the main point of this post…

In late spring of this year, we started noticing that our son Noah loved being on the paddleboard. But at home his behavior was progressively becoming more challenging. In fact, the only time he seemed genuinely happy and relaxed is when he was on a paddleboard or surfboard. He also took to it immediately, showing a natural ability and talent.

On September 3rd, Noah was diagnosed with autism. Suddenly, the confusing puzzle pieces started to come together and we were able to see the big picture. What a relief to finally understand our son and know how to parent him the way he needed us to! Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 88 American children falls on the autism spectrum, a tenfold increase in the last four decades.

Andy and I want to encourage activities where Noah can flourish, so I started doing research on surfing and autism. I found more information than I expected. Apparently many autistic children have had great results with paddleboarding and surfing, although no one can explain why. Below I’ve collected some of the information I found. Please share these resources with other parents of autistic children. Hopefully they will have similar positive results.

+ Autism Surfs (Mary Esther, FL) – This is a community of friends and families that have come together with the purpose of teaching children with ASD to surf.
+ Surfers For Autism (Boca Raton, FL) – Their mission is to unlock the potential of people with developmental delays, and support advocacy for autism issues and scientific research.
+ Surfers Healing (San Juan Capistrano, CA) – This is the original surf camp for children with autism, and they’ve been serving their community since 1996.
+ Addie’s AutismFITT Club (San Diego, CA) – She provides 45-minute paddleboarding sessions specifically designed for children with autism.
+ The Great Ponte Vedra Paddle (Ponte Vedra Beach, FL) – This annual event hosted by The HEAL Foundation raises thousands of dollars to assist those with autism living in their community.
+ Stand Up for Autism Paddle Boarding Event (Jensen Beach, FL) – The Treasure Coast Autism Project is a school located in Stuart for children with autism. The purpose of this annual event is to raise awareness of ASD and provide financial assistance to local families, schools, and programs committed to helping the needs of those affected by this growing disorder.

Courtesy of artbyandyski.com


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