A group called “Ocean Heroes” is teaching young children with autism to surf, in the hopes of encouraging them to develop their confidence and social skills.
The most recent event was held in Perth and had over 100 children participate, according to the ABC. The program hosts a range of children, including low functioning, high functioning, verbal and non-verbal, “Some of them dive in head first, others take a little bit more convincing,” says Co-Founder Sam Moyle.
Surfing helps the children gain confidence and explore an environment that they might not otherwise be exposed to. “I felt like I was flying,” said young Mikayla Coppl, a participant.
The students’ parents have also reported benefits, noting a lot of their children appear to be much calmer. Mrs Barrett-Lennard’s son William had ‘very low-functioning autism’, however has reportedly received a lot of benefit from participating in the Ocean Heroes program. “There’s a huge improvement once he has been in the water,’ Mrs Barrett-Lennard told the ABC. “We find that because he is non-verbal – well, almost non-verbal – we get a lot more speech and a lot more communication from him.”
The founders and directors of Ocean Heroes started the program in 2016, after fundraising to bring a similar program to Perth from the United States. They have received praise from autism research team leader Professor Andrew Whitehouse, who says the program offers a great chance of inclusivity for these children, “Often children with autism don’t have the opportunity to participate in organised sport – that just creates huge and unnecessary exclusion and isolation,” Dr Whitehouse said. “Surfing helps them enrich their social skills, problem solving and just being out in nature, which is a wonderful therapeutic effect.”
The charity hopes to hold more events in the future. To find out more, visit their website here