Through the years, medicine has begun looking for alternative, holistic ways to help people with disabilities and mental health struggles to find some relief from their symptoms. Doctors are prescribing exercise and walks in nature more and more as opposed to medical interventions.
A major breakthrough in the treatment and management of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in children is through surf therapy. Participating in the sport in a guided environment allows children with ASD to escape the challenges of the social world, and to focus on the sport itself.
Studies are now showing the great impact surfing has on children with ASD, and how surf therapy camps are helping to bring this experience to children with autism and their families. Let’s learn more about why surfing helps children with ASD.
Surfing is a water sport where surfers use a board to ride along a wave of water which eventually leads the surfer to the beach shores. People prefer to surf in the ocean but these days lakes and rivers are equally preferred.
There is a World Surfing League (WSL) and an International Surfing Association (ISA) that governs the sport and showcases the world’s best talent.
There are numerous physical and health benefits to surfing. Not only does it help strengthen cardiovascular fitness from swimming and paddling, but the posture and maneuvering help build powerful strength in the shoulders and back muscles.
Similarly, the legs and entire core of the body get stronger due to the constant riding on the waves. However, these are not the only benefits that coming from surfing.
Riding on the waves can be soothing and zen-like in its relaxation. The combination of the exercise endorphins and the fresh air and excitement of catching waves are all mood-boosters that can have lasting effects throughout the day and week.
Surfing can also provide people with a passion, a purpose, and an outlet for their times of struggle.
Studies are beginning to show that surfing helps people with autism and is considered very therapeutic in managing their symptoms and easing bouts of sensory overload. Doctors are now prescribing it as a form of treatment and symptom relief for children with ASD.
Autism, or ASD, is a disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and socialize with others. The condition affects the nervous system and affects the overall cognitive, emotional, and physical health of the person.
Autism Spectrum Disorder starts to show during childhood. As per a study by the World Health Organization, 1 out of every 160 children in the world suffers from autism. In fact, in the last decade, 17% of children aged 3-17 were diagnosed with a developmental disability.
As per the CDC, ASD occurs in all races, ethnic backgrounds, and socio-economic segments of populations, but is four times more common in boys than in girls. There are those with ASD who can manage life on their own but many need constant care and supervision.
People with ASD cannot be cured but can be treated and there can be a noticeable improvement in their lives as long as they are trained using psychosocial interventions, for example, behavioral treatment and skill training programs.
There is no current medical treatment available to prevent or cure the condition and the best solution is early intervention to regulate and improve the conditions through constant guided care.
Given such a solution, people started looking for creative ways to help these kids, for example, via surfing programs. Lately, water sports like surfing have made an immense contribution to helping to manage the effects of this condition.
Participating in surfing offers complete inclusion and support by not subjecting them to stigma or discrimination.
How Surfing Helps
The parents of autistic kids are usually surprised to see how happy and cheerful their children are when they are surfing and playing with the waves. Of course, these children are accompanied by pro-surfers who are on their toes to take care of these kids in the water.
It’s a wonderful sport that helps autistic kids feel more connected to their world in an environment away from the social chatter of the world.
The waves demand to pay attention, paddle, move, and keep up which makes kids focus more on the task at hand and this lets them forget other things altogether.
A study shows that ASD kids like rhythm and repetition and they avoid “new” and “different” which works just fine with surfing. Also, the weightlessness of the water and the breeze add to a calming, happy experience.
Better Academic Performance
In terms of academic performance, ASD kids who partake in surfing as a sport are considered to perform better than those who do not indulge in this sport at all.
With the daily ritual of visiting the ocean, relieving stress, and getting the much-needed positivity, these kids are succeeding in such a way that “Surfing Therapy” has now become a thing in the USA.
Surfing and Autism Skills
There are visible and practical benefits that autistic children get from surfing regularly.
Also, the natural skill set of ASD kids is similar to the attributes of surfing, which means that these kids feel connected to their true selves even when at the sea. For example, surfing requires logical thinking ability and ASD kids are natural thinkers!
Surfing requires longer periods of concentration and focus at one go and contrary to what most people think, autistic kids have a better ability to stay focused when motivated.
This is also one of the reasons that these kids respond better to a surfing session compared to other forms of therapy.
Further, autistic children can more easily stick to routines and schedules, be punctual, adhere to rules, maintain order, and create alternate solutions.
All these skill sets get good practice when these kids decide to jump onto the water and ride the waves. It is like an athlete going to a gymnasium for another daily workout!
Statistics Do the Talking
A study conducted by the University of Rhode Island in 2015 followed 16 students with disabilities (including autism) over an eight-week surfing period. The results below were the outcome of merely one hour of instructor-led sessions. twice a week, which lasted for eight weeks.
While findings showed an overall improvement in upper-body strength, core strength, and cardiovascular endurance, there was a sharp rise in the mental well-being, mindfulness, and motivation of the kids who participated in the research.
There was a marked difference in their outlook and how they interacted with the instructors, their parents, and their usual close-knit network of a few people.
The success of these sessions has led the navy to do a study on surfing programs for the fitness of their cadets and the mental health of their members. Key benefits from surfing are agility and mindfulness which go a long way in improving mental health.
ASD Surfing Institutions
There are many surfing camps that have popped up all over the United States. One of the camps that started in 1996 and are still helping ASD kids, is called Surfers Healing Camp. These people help autistic kids in building confidence and a sense of calm through surfing the waves.
Another camp is called Surfers for Autism in Florida, which started in 2007 with a simple idea to reach out to autistic people and do something for them. They started with free sessions for anyone and everyone from the ASD community to experience surf therapy for themselves.
If you have a child with ASD or know someone who has ASD, you can participate in community work to ensure that these people are adequately taken care of.
There are plenty of institutions like the ones mentioned above that are accepting volunteers right now. Most community work in the surf-autism forums is done by these volunteers who help make the lives of ASD kids better.
Reach out through the social media handles, Facebook groups, and WhatsApp communities. Check within your neighborhood as well if you know someone who can use surfing to improve their vitality.
Finding Ways to Help
What is needed, as per the human rights bodies, is for us to take care of ASD kids, handle them with care and make sure that we are doing all that we can to improve their lives on an on-going basis.
This is the only way they will open up and gain the confidence to deal with the challenges of the social environment.
Surfing is not a cure for autism but it is the way to go to bring marked changes in the lives of these kids, on an everyday basis. The relationship between the sport and the condition is so special that if taken advantage of, ASD kids can begin to excel in areas where they may currently struggle.