Surfing and autism have a unique history. There are some great special needs surfing programs around the country, mostly started by surfing parents who had children with autism and saw how much they loved the water.
My own son is no different. Of all of his phobias, the ocean is not one of them. He could live in the water. He will swim far far from shore, and I have to struggle to keep up. So, after reading stories of California surfing camps and not wanting to spend that kind of money to get there from Austin, I looked into my closest beach’s program–Port Aransas, Texas (also known as Port A). On a trip last year, I just grabbed a flyer from a tourist kiosk in the Port A grocery store and called them up to see if they could accommodate my son. They were friendly, helpful and really interested in helping my child try to learn to surf even given his huge motor deficits. He scores consistently in the fifth percentile for gross motor planning tasks.
When I asked my son what he thought about trying surfing, he said, “Sure.” So we arranged a private lesson at $80/hour. Pricey, but not expensive given that we drove to Port A and he would carry this memory for life. For the same price, they also included my typically developing niece in the lesson to give my son a chance to feel comfortable and also to help us get “two for one” value on our private lesson.
I tell you, things were a bit dicey in the beginning. My son had a hard time practicing on shore, where they like to start beginners and I thought he would quit before hitting the waves. But, once in the water, he was so happy and the instructor helped him so much that he was able to first “surf” on his belly on a wave all the way to shore and eventually was able to “knee surf” all the way to shore. He never was able to figure out how to stand up but he didn’t really care. He said, “I can knee surf!” and he was really excited about it.
He learned how to “Hang Ten” and we had a great beach memory.
Here’s how to contact the “Texas Surf Camps”. Call (361) 749-6956, or www.texassurfcamps.com. They have weeklong surf camps for typically developing children, but have been known to accommodate autistic individuals in the camps as well. The best way to figure it out is just to call them and speak to someone on staff about your child’s likes/dislikes and strengths/challenges.
If your child likes the water, I think they’ll like surfing. There is no feeling like cheering from the shore as your child smiles and struggles to surf. It was a beautiful day and a great memory. Worth 80 bucks!