September 10, 2012

Surfers Healing, Belmar, NJ

Posted in Life's Little Moments, My Take on Autism tagged , , , , , at 9:57 am by autismmommytherapist

Clouds momentarily cover the sun as my little party of three crosses Ocean Ave. in Belmar, my mom trudging ahead to stop traffic, my youngest boy clutching my hand in his while simultaneously balancing his boogie board in the other. He glances up at his surroundings in the middle of the intersection and stops dead in his tracks, me urging him on so we can make it to the boardwalk safely. He’s never seen the beach like this before, so many tents strewn upon sand, so many people. Zach looks up at me tentatively, and I remind him that we’re here for Surfers’ Healing and the “Beach Bash”, and that we’ll have a great time today.

I remind him there will be tons of arts and crafts in addition to surfing. He smiles, and I know he’s completely bought into the day.

I’ve known about this event for a few years now, but have never previously attended. Surfers Healing was founded by Israel and Danielle Paskowitz, in honor of their son Isaiah, diagnosed with autism at age three. Isaiah’s father discovered that surfing was the one place where his son seemed to find an escape from the sensory overload that tormented him. The foundation holds multiple surf clinics every year.

Due to its popularity getting a surfing spot is difficult, but quite honestly, since POAC (Parents of Autistic Children) holds several surfing events during the summer, I wasn’t concerned if we didn’t make it in. Zach enjoys sliding into shore on fiberglass, but isn’t clamoring to repeat the experience all the time. I’d considered just doing the “Beach Bash” portion of the event, but until this summer my youngest wasn’t a big fan of hanging out at the shore for extended periods of time. This year he mirrored his mom’s love of sand and surf, and I thought it was worth giving the whole thing a try.

Thankfully, my instincts were correct.

We happened to be in the right place at the right time, and were told if we went to the surf tent fairly quickly, we’d be able to work Zach into the queue. First we had to dispense with lunch (my son has his priorities), but soon we were heading over to the surfing tent, waiting for our turn. Zach eagerly took the hand of the pretty volunteer assigned to secure his life jacket, and I was told politely to head on down to the beach to watch him, that she could handle him from here.

Zach briefly waved goodbye to me, then turned back to his caretaker. I was dismissed.

My mom and I positioned ourselves carefully along the shoreline, and watched as an experienced surfer hustled a huge board into pounding surf, and waited for Zach to be placed on top. He willingly walked into roiling waves as the ocean currents were strong that day, and happily positioned himself on the board and hung on for dear life. Within moments his host was paddling into deeper waters, and I could see the joy on my son’s face as my mom and I tried to remain calm and remind ourselves he was in the hands of professionals.

At least we tried.

A few seconds later the board caught that perfect current, and Zach glided into shore at top speed, thrilled with the ride and the experience. He tumbled off into the surf but bounded up exhilarated, searching for us and exclaiming “I did it!” to all who would listen. He was given a trophy for his efforts, and when asked if he wanted to repeat the experience he glanced down at his prize and politely responded “no thank you”.

Once he’s got a trophy in hand, it’s game over.

We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the “Beach Bash” portion of the day, with Zach engaging in multiple games and creating every craft available to him. He loved the event, and I loved spending the afternoon with members of the autism community.

A win-win for all.

Surfers Healing and the Beach Bash are held annually the first weekend after Labor Day in Belmar, and this has become an event I will eagerly return to with my boy next year. As always, I am so proud of his courage, thrilled to watch him stretch his wings and grow with every new experience he encounters. He continues to make such wonderful progress.

And so does his mom.

July 16, 2012

Surf’s Up

Posted in Life's Little Moments tagged , , , , , , at 10:07 am by autismmommytherapist

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

September 7, 2011

The Boys of Summer

Posted in Fun Stuff, Life's Little Moments tagged , , , , , , , , at 10:57 am by autismmommytherapist

I recently posted a status update on Facebook that read “Happy School Eve”, and I meant it. As much as I love summer (and I’ve always been a summer girl), there comes a point every season since I’ve given birth where I’m completely over warm weather, long unstructured days with my progeny, and applying sunscreen to said offspring. Sadly, there have been years when my “over point” has occurred in June, which was quite unfortunate for me. This year we made it all the way to Irene, who thankfully left my house and loved ones intact but completely sucked the life out of me (see The “I” of the Storm). I regard this as great progress that I did not succumb to that desperate need to see yellow looming outside my door until the last week in August.

I am really quite proud of myself.

What was profoundly different about this particular hiatus was that both of my children were mostly happy, eager to try new things, and (for the most part) well-behaved. Once I accepted the fact that for the better part of two months I would accomplish nothing other than keeping the kids alive (an inner struggle you would think I would have conquered by now, but is still a work in progress), I relaxed, and truly enjoyed watching them revel in the freedom I so loved as a child.

Over the last few months I had the privilege of watching my youngest son decide he wanted to swim, then conquer the skill in a matter of days. I saw my eldest child master floating in his own pool, as well as take his first tentative steps at attempting an actual stroke. I was witness to Justin’s all-encompassing pride at his equestrian pursuits, and Zachary’s decision to ride the waves solo at POAC’s annual surf day. With the help of my oldest son’s BCBA we were able to elongate Justin’s beach time well past our traditional half-hour stay, and I feel that my boy even grew to enjoy an extended stay on sand and surf again. Last, my husband and I had the pleasure of taking Zach on his first solo Adventure Day”, an outing Zach still speaks about, and one Jeff and I hope to repeat in the near future.

Here are some photos capturing the “highlights” of the season. I feel it’s important to honor these pathways to progress because if someone had told me even two years ago I’d experience a summer such as this, I wouldn’t have believed them. Both boys have made such great strides. Now their mother is relearning how live in the moment.

I hope you enjoy these moments as much as I did. Here’s to a wonderful fall!

(The first time he swam underwater…)

 

(Holding on for dear life)

(The adventure has just begun!)

(The first time he went “solo”)

  

(Always a body in motion)


(Loving the pool this summer!)

(Enjoying being “pushed around” for the first time)

(Mastering the art of the float)

(Thrilled to perform!)

(Relearning to love the beach)


(My beach boy)

(Just two guys out for a swim)

(No caption necessary!)

Hope you had a wonderful summer!

August 10, 2010

Gratitude Attitude

Posted in Fun Stuff tagged , , at 6:23 am by autismmommytherapist

Once again, I’d like to thank POAC (Parents of Autistic Children) for providing my boys with another fabulous opportunity to try surfing their little hearts out at the Jersey shore. They loved it, and I appreciate all the effort that went into this day. Looking forward to next year!

July 19, 2010

Ride the Wave

Posted in Life's Little Moments tagged , , , at 6:44 am by autismmommytherapist

We’ve finally made it, our caravan of three vehicles transporting two autistic children and four pairs of adult hands, the requisite number required to make certain both my boys can participate in Parents of Autistic Children’s (POAC) annual surf event at the Jersey shore. I am thankful we have indeed arrived, as we had previously endured a brief skirmish with Justin regarding the appropriateness of his wearing Tivas to the beach, and eventually, to my relief, I won. I simply refuse to take any of my progeny to the ocean clad in socks and sneakers. I am a Jersey girl myself, and I have my standards after all.

After navigating our way cautiously across the bustling thoroughfare of highway 35 we arrive safely with both children in tow, register, and settle in to dispense with the fifteen minutes we have left before my oldest son’s scheduled surf lesson. Justin unerringly finds the strategically placed food offerings that so entice him, and hunkers down at a picnic table to sample a small piece of submarine sandwich. I actually join him as I remember I have unwittingly forsworn lunch today, a minor tragedy I pledge never to repeat. Life is difficult enough without having to endure hunger pangs as well.

After compulsively checking my watch a dozen times to make certain we won’t miss our appointed hour, we clean up our residue and herd my sons down to the waiting shoreline, where I see the Brick lifeguards fully engaged in the job of ushering autistic children out to sea. There are makeshift lines in evidence for parents to stake their claim for the next surfing team, and I bark out orders to my family members to keep the kids alive while I wait to attract someone’s attention. Zachary has to be kept from wandering off, Justin needs peace and quiet to finish his sandwich, and of course, there are photo opportunities that cannot be missed. We are a well-oiled machine, primarily because I am bossy and have instructed everyone as to their job requirements prior to leaving the house. Each child has two adults assigned to him, as I am still wary after the recent near debacle of my not-so-great adventure with Justin. I am determined to leave today with both children alive, and at least one joyous photo of each recorded for posterity.

Clearly, I have ridiculously high standards for happiness.

Eventually I make eye contact with a strapping young man I would have deemed gorgeous twenty years ago (and still do), and ask him if he and his surfing lackeys can take my son out after they finish with their present charge. He smiles and responds we are indeed next in line, and I look back to gauge exactly how much sandwich remains on Justin’s styrofoam plate. It looks like enough to last the duration of the other child’s surf lesson, and I breathe a slight sigh of relief at that knowledge. Justin seems tired today, has in fact been conscious since long before dawn and has just completed his first day at his new school. I am confident he will not be in the mood to wait for anything. I am adamant that he at least try this sport, as he was fairly reluctant initially to mount a horse eight months ago, and obviously that has evolved into a beloved and preferred activity. I never know what will eventually click with him, and as his interests are limited, I want him exposed to as many things as possible. Besides, we reside ten minutes from the beach, and I practically grew up on one. It is impossible for me to believe he won’t eventually at least tolerate the roller coaster of sand and surf.

Eventually the little boy ahead of us relinquishes his viselike grip on the surfboard that has afforded him an unparalled ten minutes of fun, and he finally plants his feet on solid ground and disrobes from his life vest. The head lifeguard calls out to me that it’s Justin’s turn, and I wheel around to ascertain if enough of his Italian sub has been devoured for him to transition to a new activity. I eyeball the messy remains of the sandwich, and decide he has indeed ingested enough to pull him away from his secure spot and attempt the inherent treachery of the ocean. I am certain he will not be thrilled with my request.

He reluctantly but dutifully hands his plate to me as I knew he would, my son who always strives to be my good boy. I take his hand and walk him to the waiting cadre of surfers, and as we approach the individual holding the life vest I can see in his eyes he remembers this event from last year, and is not impressed. I’m wondering if we will be able to accomplish our goal after all.

But today has been a good day for Justin, and although he is not enthralled with the concept of what is about to transpire, he complies to my whim of ensconcing him in his jacket, and follows me, albeit reluctantly, down to the water’s edge. I instruct his new friends to simply take him in and do their best to encourage him to at least lie on the board, because often Justin responds to a situation much better after the preliminaries have been dispensed with completely. Two swarthy young men carry him in while the remaining guards transport the board, and they quickly attempt to situate him upon it through the roiling surf. They try several times, but my firstborn will have nothing to do with this alien, elongated piece of fiberglass, and instead clutches for dear life the closest human he can find. I am amused, that of course, it is the pretty girl. My son has his standards as well.

I shout to them to return him to me, and they quickly comply. Justin looks relieved, pulls my hands to help him shed his equipment, and unerringly picks his way among the crowds to his waiting snack. I thank the group profusely, and they murmur somewhat dejected apologies, which I quickly refuse. I tell them we’ll try again next year, and with the resilience of youth, they accept this promise, and move off to the next child who looks far more eager to attempt to master the waves. I turn back again, make certain Justin is still consuming his prize, then allow my gaze to wander a few feet forward to a small crowd encircling a stationary surfboard with a small child upon it, one who is responding to a cry to “hang ten” with a semi-crouch and airplane arms, and eyes making certain everyone concurs that he is the main attraction.

That child happens to be mine.

It appears that my three-year-old, the one I didn’t even bother to sign up for this event due to his fears that the ocean is “too loud”, has appropriated his own board and team to accompany it. I stride rapidly over to the scene to make certain someone in my family is capturing this on film, and arrive just in time to hear one of his newfound friends ask him if he’d like to go surfing in the ocean. He replies with a resounding “yes!”.

This is the child, who although light years milder in his autism affliction than his older brother, is still plagued far more seriously with sensory issues. He still regards the vacuum as a threatening ogre, reviles sand between his toes with the same vehemency as his father, and will permit only two different textures of food items to grace his palate. His issues have slowly begun to resolve themselves with time and maturity, but nowhere in my repertoire of “he must try this anyway” did I include a rendezvous with the sea. To date, he has refused to even immerse his toes in the receding surf, and recoils from its vastness even while cocooned in the safety of his mother’s embrace. His desire to attempt this on open water frankly stuns me.

And I could not be more thrilled.

Zachary is asked to stretch himself out on the board and grip the sides tightly, a command with which he willingly responds. He is still so light that his surfing cohort can whisk him into the sea by simply raising him to shoulder level and simultaneously battling the waves, all with my smallest son staring out to the horizon, impatient for the adventure to commence. I whip off my beach dress and rush out after them, not because I fear they’ll lose him to this monolith of salty brine, but from the desire to be in close proximity should he seriously regret this decision. I immerse myself for no reason. He doesn’t even notice me. He is simply enthralled with the ebb and flow of tide.

I am within earshot of hearing him politely decline to sit or stand on the board, and his refusal to comply is irrelevant to the joy and intense concentration evident in his countenance. He has conquered his fear of the ocean, and I have no doubt in the next year or the one following he will eventually be obeying the tide’s majesty, and gliding safely into surf’s edge. I watch him, toes scrabbling for purchase on the slick surface of the board, tiny fingers wrapped securely around its edges, face redolent in its awe. He is magnificent.

He does not realize what a gift he has given me today, how these instances sustain me through the terrible times, or even simply the sad moments, those instances most often accompanied by self-doubt that I am doing anything, everything, I can for these boys. I wish I could explain to him what this means to me, but he is three after all, and would simply reply “mommy is happy”.

And he would be correct. She is. And as I turn toward shore to watch my family rejoice at his bravery, I feel myself buoyed by a wave both of water and sheer contentedness, and for that moment, I am healed.