Catch The Waves
CATCH THE WAVES
Parents of special needs children struggle daily with myriad issues ranging from the cost of therapy to social acceptance and inclusion. Finding an event or organization capable of bridging those gaps can be quite challenging, but a local nonprofit is stepping up to the plate in a big way. Boca Raton-based Surfers For Autism was formed in May of 2007 with the simple concept of introducing a handful of children on the autism spectrum to the healing powers of the ocean. The group has expanded to a state-wide juggernaut. The group took inspiration from California-based Surfers Healing, and the inaugural Deerfield Beach event registered 40 children on the spectrum.
Registration now consistently approaches 200. “Our children are guided into waves by master surf instructors, and we have several volunteers per child. There are no words to describe the beauty of witnessing a non-communicative child who is completely unreceptive to touch enter the water, and after one wave they are bear-hugging their instructor,” said SFA President Don Ryan. Parents gasp for air and weep in total amazement as they watch their child hit the surf, all the while expressing a level of emotion often lacking in the socially-withdrawn children.
Wende Henderson’s 12-year-old son, Foster, expressed no desire to surf until he was greeted with the dedicated, passionate throng of volunteers. “From the first time we were greeted, until the first time he came in on a wave, he had a blast. He wanted to do it over and over, and we have never witnessed him so interested in any activity,” she said. Similar stories abound, and an added benefit for attending families is the cost: absolutely none! Erwin Kaufman’s 10-year-old son Bryan has been a Surfer For Autism since the group’s inception and is now a full-fledged surfer. “We take part in many different programs for special needs kids, but the volunteers involved in SFA are some of the most motivated. We are truly moved by their association with our kids,” he said. The day features a range of diversions including: face painting, live music, free lunch for families and volunteers and a raffle that is second to none to benefit Autism Speaks. Jaclyn Merens is the South Florida Regional Director for Autism Speaks, and her 25-year-old son Daniel has been at every SFA event. “Surfing is the one thing he can do that nobody else in our family can do, and that gives him such a sense of pride and independence. Since he began surfing, he has blossomed in ways that I never could have imagined, and it is the only thing he asks to do on a consistent basis,” said Merens. The therapeutic benefits are apparent to both the trained and untrained eye.
Future physician Spencer Bezalel plans on using his experiences with SFA to open his medical school applications. “I was very touched when I participated as a surf instructor and was unsure how children on the spectrum would respond to the stimulation. I remember a boy named Ollie who really bonded with me. He even went so far as to continue finding me and holding my hand to take him surfing again, and this is rare for a child with autism,” he said. SFA has events planned all over the state through the summer. For more information, visit www.surfersforautism.org.
Images Courtesy of Ben Hicks