Sunday, February 20, 2011

Surfing and Autism

It has been known in autism circles that such activities as swimming and horseback riding often helps to reduce stress, tantrums, body rigidity, and other issues an autistic person faces. Recently a new sport, that of surfing, has been added to the list of programs that can offer calming to those suffering from the disability.

However, before you rush out, buy a surfboard, and travel with your child across the country to find the most perfect surfing area, you first need to look at some possibilities with surfing just like you would before you introduced your autistic child to any other new activity.

Perhaps the most important thing to determine is if your child will even be willing to enter the world of the ocean with the pounding waves. For some children this can be overwhelming - for an autistic child it will most likely open an exciting new world or it might be one of the most traumatic scenes you can expose him/her to.

While some will disagree, I strongly oppose forcing your child to enter the world of surfing. If s/he begins screaming, flailing about, even reaching a point of showing panic - this is not a positive way to begin a new adventure. There are some programs that 'force' the autistic child or adult to participate - no matter what fear the person might be expressing. The child will be physically forced onto a board. Is this wise? Might the trauma lead to additional issues and behaviors?

Today there are surfing camps that believe they can help those people with autism - even if it involves 'forcing' participation. You, the parent or care provider, must first determine if you want your child 'forced' even if some authorities believe it is a necessary step in order to get your child out into the waves. If you do not want your child forced then this may not be the sport for you to look at to help your child (as a teacher I cannot condone forcing a child to participate - but, perhaps I would feel differently if I was the parent of a child with this disability).

Once you have made the decision - go with it!

If you are one of the parents who has decided to expose your child to surfing you might feel relieved to know that many parents find that the experience seems to soothe the child. It is not being offered as a cure it is simply being offered as a new, exciting adventure - much as if s/he went bowling. Experts say the child ends the experience feeling exhilarated and feeling great that s/he has conquered the waves. Experts say that surfing brings smiles to the child's face. It is said that taking the risk of surfing does something positive for both the brain and the body. It is believed that the body reacts by causing the muscles to move more quickly as well as the heart.

Surfing - I cannot imagine that this is something that every autistic person can engage in; however, not every autistic child will play baseball, lift weights, dance, or involve him/herself in a number of other sports. This is just another activity that your child may find exciting and exhilarating.

By Jack E. George

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