Ride The Wave

A television documentary in early 2008 inspired Julio Magrisso, Assistant Director for the city of Miami Beach Parks & Recreation Department, to pursue the idea of a surf camp for children with autism.

This surf camp caters to kids with autism spectrum disorders. Photo Courtesy of Jannet Harriss, City of Miami Beach Staff

That spring, the department partnered with the University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (UM-NSU CARD), a support program, to host the first camp.

The idea was to provide a therapeutic surfing experience for children who may not otherwise be able to seek out such an opportunity.

According to the Autism Society of America, one percent of the population ages 3 to 17 has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a life-long developmental disability that impairs communication, self-control, social interaction, and learning.

After UM-NSU CARD screened and pre-qualified participants, the camp opened its doors to 12 campers ranging from 8 to 12 years old with high-functioning autism, pervasive developmental disorder, or Asperger’s syndrome.

Tranquil Benefits

Although dedicated research regarding the benefits of surfing for individuals with autism is scarce, parents and camp instructors attest to many positive effects, such as increased self-esteem and the opportunity to interact with others.

It is also said that some children who display repetitive behaviors and/or anxiety seem to be calmed by the ocean, which allows for increased attention and focus.

Surfing also provides a fun way to build physical fitness into a child’s life, and can be pursued as a long-term hobby or sport.

“The reason we do this camp is to really show the rest of the world that kids with autism–and kids with any disability–really are more ‘able’ than they are disabled. And this is really just an opportunity for us to work together with our other community supporters and dispel myths,” says Dr. Michael Alessandri, Ph.D., executive director of UM-NSU CARD.

Special-needs children are often challenged with myriad issues, ranging from social acceptance to limited opportunities to participate in recreational sports. This one-week camp provides a chance to surf, but more importantly, to be part of a class like any other kid.

On the first day, participants are evaluated on swimming skills as well as surfing practice in a pool. During the remainder of the week, the children ride surfboards, build sand castles, and enjoy the ocean waves.

A camper checks out the board for the day’s activities. Photo Courtesy of Jannet Harriss, City of Miami Beach Staff

The weeklong event also mixes in a curriculum that focuses on swimming skills, basic oceanography, meteorology, open-water surfing, and, most importantly, the children’s abilities.

The camp–now in its fifth year–has proven its success as parents witness the rewards for their children.

“It is so moving to see him on the board, and to see the look of fun and determination on his face,” says Hilda Mitrani, the mother of a camper. Mitrani admits she is in awe after seeing her son actually surf, and she realizes the importance of this milestone in his life.

Page 1 of 2 | Next page

Related posts:

  1. Surf’s Up For Wrightsville Beach Camps
  2. Tapping Natural Resources
  3. Dancing through the Decades
  4. Miami Goes Broadway
  5. The Heart of Surfing
  • Columns
  • Departments