Your child has autism.” Those four words changed our lives forever.
Today, 1 in 49 parents in New Jersey will hear those same words. In recent years, the prevalence of autism has skyrocketed, and New Jersey leads the country with the highest rate of diagnoses.
Our son was born in 1994. When he was diagnosed in 1996, he was on the leading edge of the autism tidal wave. At this point, most people had never even heard of autism, and very few people knew someone who had been diagnosed. The programs and supports that are readily available today did not exist yet. For many years, when we would struggle to find accommodations for my son, I would think, “Someone should do this,” or, “Why doesn’t someone do that?”
When I was 46 years old, I finally realized that I am a someone. If there was a need for something that didn’t exist yet, I could create it myself.
As a result, our family started a 501c3 nonprofit organization called Heart of Surfing, which provides free surfing every Saturday for families with autism and other special needs. We quickly added skateboarding on Saturdays in the spring and the fall. Incredible volunteers have donated their time week after week and the local surf community and surf shops have helped us in every way possible.
The support of our community has allowed us to grow and thrive, and we are fortunate to make new connections and discover new opportunities all the time. We have introduced yoga, sensory friendly rollerskating and ice skating, and art classes. Our special needs surfers have had the opportunity to participate in local surf contests, including Chip Miller Surf Fest, Dean Randazzo Surf for a Cause, and the Surf Rodeo. NPN, a local surf club, planned their first annual Heart of Surfing Contest in 2015. This event raises funds for Heart of Surfing and includes our special needs surfers in the event. Seeing our surfers encouraged by some of this area’s best surfers and hearing the crowd cheer as they catch a wave is one of the most heartwarming feelings I’ve experienced. This year, one of our surfers even had the opportunity to join his high school’s surf team.
We are so fortunate to live in a community that stands with us in creating opportunities for families with autism.
April is Autism Awareness Month. Please consider the ways in which you can stand with those affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder in our community.
“And hey, if your wings are broken, please take mine so yours can open too. ‘Cause I’m gonna stand by you.” -Rachel Platten