Such an awesome event! I love that I am seeing events like this more and more!
BELMAR – Kyle Surita
carefully placed his feet on the surfboard and caught a wave. He gained
The 11-year-old from Elmwood Park was one of more than
200 people with autism who surfed the waves Sunday in Belmar. Thousands
gathered on the Seventh Avenue beach that morning for the Autism Family
Services of New Jersey's 10th annual Beach Bash.
James Surita and Michelle Foschino watched their son surf from the
shore, and waved back to Kyle. Once on land again, Kyle took a deep,
Afterward, Kyle said he loved "that rush you get when you stand up on that surfboard… It's just amazing."
is one of a growing population of people in New Jersey diagnosed with
autism, a group of disorders that cause difficulties in communication
and social interaction. In 2000, about 1 in 150 children nationwide were
diagnosed with autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Just 10 years later, about 1 in 68 children were diagnosed with an
autism spectrum disorder.
In New Jersey, the rate is even higher: 1 in 45 children in the state have autism, according to the CDC.
so many affected by the condition, organizers of Autism Family Services
of New Jersey expected about 7,000 people to attend the Belmar Beach
Bash, which included free activities and food.
"The Beach Bash is a day of acceptance for families," said Liza Gundell, deputy director of the organization.
tables lined the beach, a DJ played music for children, and a bounce
house vibrated with energy on the sunny afternoon.
53, of New York City said the accepting atmosphere drew her family. Her
16-year-old son, Dustin, has autism, she said.
"We live in Manhattan, so it's hard to find that vibe of acceptance," said her husband Michael Sweeney, 51.
has attended the event numerous times, and with the help of volunteers
from Surfers Healing, has ridden the waves on previous trips.
ocean has an incredibly calming affect," Katie Sweeney said. "He was
scared at first, but once we got him out, he didn't want to stop."
Ekberg, director of Surfers Healing, said the organization was formed
by professional surfer Israel "Izzy" Paskowitz after one of his sons was
diagnosed with autism. Paskowitz took his son out paddling and
discovered the boy, like many others with autism, was calmed by being
out on the water. Paskowitz launched Surfers Healing with a group of
professional surfers, and the organization now tours North America
taking more than 4,000 children with autism and special needs surfing
each year, Ekberg said.
"Part of it is really being out on the
water and making a connection with that child," Ekberg said. "If they're
apprehensive, after you catch that very first wave, they don't want to
get out of the water."
Part of Surfers Healing's mission is to
break assumptions about the limitations of children with autism, and
prove that they can participate in many of the same sports and
activities as their peers.
Kyle is proof of that capability. In addition to surfing Sunday, he boogie boards and skis, his father said.
"He's very adventurous," James Surita said. "As long as he's willing, we'll take him. We don't hold him back."
Chris Smith — who spearheaded a variety of federal legislation to
support autism programs — stood on the Belmar beach just yards from the
Smith authored the "Autism Collaboration, Accountability,
Research, Education and Support Act of 2014" or Autism CARES Act, which
gives $1.3 billion over five years to autism research. The act also
puts focus on children with autism who "age out" of services when they
Smith said 50,000 people with autism "age out" of services each year, but these young adults need jobs and housing.
a huge tsunami of children with very significant challenges," Smith
said. "There needs to be a game-changing attitude in our society."
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