Children with autism are learning to let go as they cling tightly to a surfboard. Surfers Healing, a non-profit organization founded by a professional surfer and his wife who raise their own autistic son, has been introducing thousands of kids each year to the ocean surf. And the results have been overwhelmingly positive.
Izzy Paskowitz came from a family of surfers. The famed Paskowitz Surf Camp, founded in 1972 by his father Dorian (called “Doc” because of his degree from Stanford Medical School), introduced many thousands of people to surfing. Izzy’s life was all about surfing since age 6.
He married his wife Danielle when he was 23 and she was 20 and they had a daughter, Israelah. Then Isaiah came along and by age 3, he was diagnosed with autism. Their world changed.
As Isaiah regressed, his father had the idea of paddling out on a surfboard with Isaiah sitting in the front. The two had such a wonderful time that Izzy and Danielle thought that other autistic children could benefit from the experience. And so Surfers Healing began.
Each year, the Surfers Healing: A Foundation for Autism holds a series of free one-day sessions on both coasts for families with an autistic child. Volunteer surfers help out with the surfing while donations fund everything from refreshments to permits. Locations range from Rhode Island to Hawaii and Puerto Rico to Canada.
In 2011, the Oprah Winfrey Network profiled the Paskowitz family in The Swell Life. It followed them around during 2009-2010, both at surf camp and at horse shows, which is Danielle’s hobby. It also showed tantrums, bad decisions and the gritty side of life with an autistic 18-year-old son.
“We didn’t hide anything. My son had a couple of major tantrums, and the cameras are right there,” Danielle recalled. “The fifth episode is heavy. When people start moaning and groaning about the small things in life, my words to them are, ‘Now you need to watch the fifth episode. It will put things into perspective.’”
Surfers Healing is free but openings fill quickly. They rely on donations and volunteers to help make each and every Surf Camp a special and memorable experience for both the child and parents.