I first heard of Surfer's Camp a few years ago. Maybe around the time that Riley received her diagnosis.
"Received her diagnosis." Like it was an award or something. I am not certain I know of anyone who'd actually pick a spectrum diagnosis, even though I don't know of any that would trade the child they have for anything.
I wouldn't. As aggravated as I get on some days, I still wouldn't. And those of you that have been reading here for a while know exactly how stressful this summer has been - and how I've been one to always, always be honest.
Even to those people who tell me, "I don't think that there's anything wrong with her. Maybe it's just you."
Before her diagnosis, the beach was where we realized that something was wrong with Riley. Sand was torture for her. The ocean was a molten pit of fire and lava that burnt her. Every trip to the beach was quick and very, very painful. The few that we took ended with tears for all of us, frustration and irritation from the older crowd and puzzlement from the younger. Who doesn't like the beach, we wondered?
For crying out loud, we LIVE at the beach.
People who are on the spectrum, that's who. Some of them, anyway - especially those who are already on sensory overload before you add in surf, sand and birds. And lots of people.
A former competitive surfer, Israel hit upon an idea--with Isaiah on the front of his surfboard, and Izzy steering from the back, the two spent the day surfing together. Surfing had a profound impact on Isaiah. Israel and Danielle decided they wanted to share this unique therapy with other autistic children. They began to host day camps at the beach where autistic children and their families could be exposed to a completely new experience of surfing.
When I woke her, and reminded her that the Surfer's Camp was today, she wanted nothing to do with it. "I don't like the sand. I don't want to surf!" she told me. Despite that, we went. I have learned not to listen to her.
She had a 9:30 appointment and when we arrived, there were a lot of people already in position. She doesn't do well with a crowd, and I felt her grab my hand a bit more firmly. We checked in and were directed to the life vest area. Once appropriately garbed, we watched.
And before she could really think about it any more - the man in charge arrived to take her away.
Watching someone walk away with your child, the one who you think looks SO BIG until you see her carried away - it's like watching your heart leave your body.
I have to hand it to the men and women of the Surfer's Healing Camp - they come from all over, some as far as Hawaii and California, and they do it for the kids. I saw many situations today that would ordinarily be cause for stares, for whispers, for judgement and condemnation. I saw children who were further along on the spectrum than my daughter, children overwhemlmed and crying, on sensory overload and in some cases, close to shutting down.You know the situations I reference. You've seen them. Maybe you've been a part of them.
There was no judgement. There were no whispers. There was no condemnation, no Did you see that kid? nudge nudge of a spouse - just quiet, peaceful acceptance and an overwhelming willingess to be there, to be of help and to see every child succeed.
Any child that was hesitant was handled with grace, with kindness and understanding and they all got on the boards. It was almost a non event. Sometimes it took two or three people working together to get that board moving in the right direction, but at no time was any child rushed.
They got on the boards and they paddled out.
Every child goes on a board with an escort.
They waited for the waves. Waves aren't very big in Virginia Beach, so sometimes, you take what you can get.
When the wave came, they started towards shore. This is when I said, "Oh, man - she's too little to be on a surf board! That thing is HUGE!"
And they rode those waves in. The escort stood in most of the cases, and often he or she reached forward and, using the strap on the back of the vest - LIFTED those kids to their feet.
Helping them succeed.
And then they took them out again.
She loved it, but after the third time, she was done. She wanted out of there.
I don't know that I can ever explain how much this event moved me. I teared up again and again, watching these kids race the waves. Inspiring, uplifting and overwhelming - words will never be enough, but these come close.
Riley loved it. She loved surfing, she wants to learn how to surf and she wants to go again next year.
And she wants to do it as a grown up - to help other kids like her, she says.
Thank you, Surfer's Healing Camp. You have created a lifelong fan in this proud Mama.