July 16, 2012
We reached the height of the ramp leading to the beach, and my smallest son exclaimed at the vista laid out before him of sand, surf, and lifeguards waiting to take him for the ride of his life. He rushed down toward their stand, proclaiming to all who would listen that “he’s going to surf!”. Zach finally stopped in front of their perch, stretched his arms out wide, and informed them that “he’s here”, and ready to go. He was in for the time of his life.
So was every kid with autism who participated in Brick Township’s fifth annual Autism Surfing Day last week.
Dan Santaniello, deputy director of the Department of Parks and Recreation who created the event, saw something similar transpire in Monmouth County, and wanted to offer a commensurate afternoon to children with autism in his home town. Since all the lifeguards involved donated their time, the program does not cut into Brick Township’s budget, an important consideration these days when taking recreation activities into account.
Gary Weitzen, executive director of POAC (Parents of Autistic Children) also located in Brick, has been promoting the event ever since to parents within the community. I found out about it four years ago while on their website and brought Justin, my then five-year-old son with moderate autism, to give surfing a whirl. The activity was not met with a great deal of enthusiasm (understatement of the year), and although we tried on subsequent years, Justin never took to it. Fortunately, he has his love of all things equestrian. We’ll leave the waves to his little brother.
And truly, the ocean was his to conquer. He thrust on his life jacket with an air of total confidence, took the hand of one of his new friends, and headed down to the tide’s ebb and flow with ease. He only attempted to master the waves once, but for the first time he managed to stand for a few seconds, moments which to his mom seemed like a glorious eternity. Zach willingly complied with directions to lay back down and ride this one in, and to his delight and mine, he did.
He even took the guys up on their subsequent offer to ride their wave runner. This kid is fearless.
All too soon it was time to head home for dinner, but I know my son left with a sense of pride and accomplishment (and a stunning medal to boot). After attempting to make friends with everyone on the beach we gathered up our gear, and headed back to the car. Through the grace of Brick Parks and Recreation and POAC Autism Services he’s pushed himself to accomplish something new, and has mastered a new skill, one I hope will continue to bring him joy and pride in the years to come.
For information on activities for children with autism, check out POAC’s website at: www.poac.net