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Wellington autistic kids take to surfing to help with stress

Dec 9th, 2008 | By | Category: Featured Article, News

ABOVE: Rohan Lane-Turnbull tries a surfboard, assisted by, from left, Patrick Lane, Gerard Bellam and Simon Parkin.

AN American idea to get autistic kids surfing will hit Lyall Bay in early February.

As the father of an autistic child and full time carer, Simon Parkin wants to give them and their families a shared recreational experience.

“When I saw how they were doing it in the States and that the children were getting such a rush out of it, I had to give it a go,” he says.

The idea was started by the US’s Clay Murzo, who recently released a film on surfing called The Changing Views on Asperger’s.

Mr Parkin, a member of the Autism Intervention Trust, has been offering lessons to parents in the trust over the past few summers and is now extending his classes to the public.

Sarah Lane-Turnbull, whose autistic son is part of the surf classes, says it is a good stress relief for autistic children: “The sea has a calming effect on them because they love movement.”

Rohan loves the water, she says. Although he cannot swim, he loves moving in the water.

Mr Parkin started Simoana’s Surf Coaching over 4 years ago and has been able to start free lessons with the help of Wellington Airport’s Wild at Heart, which donated an 11-foot tandem board and three life jackets worth about $1300.

The tandem board is large enough to allow Mr Parkin to be on the board with children while he is coaching them.

“They get such a buzz out of it,” he says. “Their faces are beaming and it’s just great to give something back to surfing after all my years of enjoyment from it.”

Asperger’s Syndrome New Zealand advocate John Greally says surfing benefits autistic children who have motor disorders. It helps them cope with anxiety and gives them a chance to enjoy sport and become more trusting of strangers.

Mr Greally has hyperlexia, a learning condition linked with Asperger’s, and supported Mr Parkin’s efforts to start surfing classes.

“I am happy being what I am, a profoundly different type of person,” says Mr Greally.

Mr Parkin says surfing requires a lot of co-ordination and concentration, so it is great for autistic children because they focus without realising.

He says there is a lack of Government support for parents of children who have autism. Funded therapies are not available in New Zealand.

“Many families can only have one parent working and there are a lot of extra costs with treating autism privately.”

He says many parents of autistic children grieve from not having a “normal” child. There are sleepless nights and the frustrations that go with raising an autistic child.

“These kids look so normal we get looks and accusations in public of how our children behave when they are just being themselves.”

The surfing lessons are only offered to autistic children, but Mr Parkin is also learning how to teach children with other disabilities.

The classes are free and Mr Parkin asks only for a donation or koha.

PICTURES: Middle, top: Simon Parkin (left) on the tandem board with Rohan Lane-Turnbull. Middle: Rohan and Sean Lane-Turnbull on the tandem board with Simon Parkin coaching from behind. Bottom: Brothers Rohan (left) and Sean Lane-Turnbull surfing together.

Facts on Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a life-long developmental disorder that makes communication and social interaction difficult. The condition also includes learning and motor sensory disabilities.

Asperger’s is the mildest form of autism and people who have it are usually of high intelligence.

They have the same symptoms as autistic people, but have fewer problems with communication, although they can sometimes seem withdrawn.

There is no cure for autism or Asperger’s. Group therapy is designed to help with developing communication skills and cope with learning and physical difficulties.

Autism New Zealand says one in 100 people has autism, including those who have Asperger’s syndrome.

It is estimated that autism touches the lives of more than 40,000 people and their families in New Zealand.

Useful Links on autism

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is a Whitireia Journalism student. She likes films, food and fashion. When she graduates she would like to work as a radio or newspaper reporter.
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