As many of us know, being the parent of a child with autism can be difficult. We wake up every morning not knowing how the day will go. When we take our kids out to public venues, we need a game plan in the event that they become overstimulated. We’ve all had it happen, I’m sure. We go to a restaurant, a park, or to a store, and our kid begins flapping their hands, rocking, or suffers a full-blown meltdown, garnering stares from every direction.
We live a life of therapies and evaluations. When Aerabella was diagnosed, we were constantly told by healthcare providers all of the things she may never do. She may not talk, show love to us, or be active like a ‘typical’ child. My wife and I refused to let that happen. We continued taking her places and working tirelessly to ensure that she gets to have a big, beautiful life.
Many will tell you the most painful part of autism is the feeling of being alone. We watch our kids play by themselves. We’re not invited to birthday parties. This led us to research various sensory-friendly groups — which brought us to Surfers Healing. We heard so many amazing things about this group of big-hearted surfers that we felt compelled to sign up. As luck would have it, we were selected in the lottery! We were told just how perfect this day would be, and it wasn’t an exaggeration. From the moment we arrived we felt like we belonged.
The first day was dedicated to a welcome BBQ. As soon as we signed in, the volunteers ushered our daughter in to get her hair braided, face painted, and something to eat. We were not accustomed to being the guest of honor, but here every child was.
The following morning at the beach, we were amazed at how many people volunteered their time to make sure we had a magical experience. For one special day, our daughter wasn’t looked at as a child with a learning disability. On this day, her autism was her super power.
There are many times in our lives when we can be in a crowd of people but still feel alone. At Surfers Healing, we are considered one big Ohana. When Aerabella had meltdowns, nobody stared. They offered insight and compassion. She loved the water, but when the moment came to head out into the ocean with a stranger, she became scared. The volunteers spent time talking to her, and Izzy gave her a hug and comforted her. As soon as she went out to ride the waves you could tell that she was having the time of her life! She came back overjoyed.
The way these surfers care for our children is incredible. I watched as kids left the shore screaming in their arms and returned laughing and smiling after riding that first wave. On this perfect day, our heroes don’t wear capes — they wear tattoos and wetsuits.
This year we were put on the waitlist. There are simply not enough surfers for every kid to have time with them on the water. After getting over our initial disappointment, we realized that this means there’s another child who will get to go in Aerabella’s place. It means there are parents who will get to come away with that same sense of hope that we left with.
Even though we don’t know if there will be space for Aerabella to surf, we will still be making the trip to Surfers Healing, and if you are attending this year, you won’t hear another person cheering more loudly for your child than me. We will smile together as well as cry together. The surfing is just a small part of what makes this day so special. Everyone coming together to turn this perfect day into a lifetime of memories is what it’s all about. It’s about a group of amazing volunteers who will enter our world and show us the amazing things our kids can accomplish, on the surfboard and over the course of their lives.
If you would like to support Surfers Healing, you can use code SURFER when you order popcorn, and 50% of your purchase will go toward helping them continue to provide these incredible camps free to kids with autism.
Mark and Cassandra have been an unstoppable duo for 10 years. They have four beautiful kids Ashlynne, Aerabella, Mikel, and Alexis. Both Ashlynne and Aerabella have an autism diagnosis. Mark is currently in college where he is studying special education.