We often aren’t sure of how to help people in need. We can donate money or volunteer our time, but one non-profit in Michigan has gone above and beyond by helping children with autism realize their talents and bolster their confidence. How? By participating in water sports.
When Hunter Petrimoulx, a 12-year old diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, jumped into Clear Lake in West Branch, Michigan, he wasn’t distracted or obsessed with the daily challenges he normally faces. He was focused on riding a wake board.
The task was hard, Petrimoulx told his parents, but the opportunity was one that kept a smile on his face, thanks to Above the Wake. This non-profit organization uses water sports to provide positive learning experiences for children with autism, according to the organization’s website.
Children with autism can face difficult challenges with daily tasks. Their senses are often out of sync, which can be painful when exposed to unfamiliar smells, sounds, sights and tastes. Children with autism also interpret language literally and can become confused by cliches or unfamiliar expressions. Communication can also be a struggle; children with autism often overcompensate when they have difficulty describing feelings. They show their emotions through agitation, withdrawal and body language. Many children with autism are able to master high-level academic work and may rattle off words and phrases they have memorized when agitated.
Children with autism are visually oriented, which means they can often master tasks when they see how they are done. Above the Wake meets these needs by demonstrating to each participant how to operate the wake board, how to make hand signals to the boat’s driver and how to hang on to the rope when entering the water.
Youth sports are therapeutic and mastering skills both on and off the water can help to build confidence in kids with disabilities. “It’s the perfect type of recreational therapy,” Tom Hart, founder of Above the Wake, told Michigan Live. “You really need to focus in order to be successful.” The experience also helps children with autism socialize with each other and the staff, which is often a difficult task for children with disabilities.
Hart said the first full season of the program brought success and smiles and fulfilled their primary goal of letting the kids have fun without focusing on their disabilities, he told Michigan Live. The program is based on modified instructions for beginners that help to improve focus. Participants typically begin their day on the sand learning how to use modified wake boards before they even enter the water. Parents are encouraged to ride along on the boat, and the children, many with learning delays and autism, are instructed on how to communicate with the driver.
The family-run organization is dedicated to understanding the needs of each child who steps foot in the water. The program is individually based and offers instruction in small groups, while encouraging the families of children with autism to participate as well. The goal is to make children comfortable by surrounding them with encouraging, familiar faces as they learn new skills and challenge themselves mentally and physically.
Providing opportunities that engage the body and mind is important for any child. Above the Wake makes it a priority to engage children with autism and their families by offering experiences they will never forget.
Children with autism are often misunderstood. As more research uncovers strategies to help them function fully in society, their opportunities continue to grow, and society becomes more accepting and encouraging of their ventures.Whizzco