Being a parent of a child with autism has its share of challenges, but we have learned that we have to look past the challenges to see the blessings that are right in front of us. It’s easy to get caught up in the chaos, but the truth is we get the privilege of experiencing life through the eyes of a child who feels hard and loves unconditionally.
My wife and I used to spend a lot of time trying to bring Aerabella into our world. What we began to realize is that we needed to take the time to enter hers. Our little girl is perfect just the way she is, and she will create her own way of navigating life. We thought we were the teachers, but really it’s Aerabella who is teaching us.
It takes a special person to give our daughter the kind of attention we give her as parents. That’s why we were astounded when we found Surfers Healing.
Aerabella arrived at her first camp last year a confused and scared 6-year old. Upon seeing her hesitate at the shoreline, Surfers Healing co-founder Izzy Paskowitz knelt down next to her and gave her a hug. I’ll never know the words that were said, but it changed my daughter’s whole demeanor, and Izzy was able to take her out into the ocean.
The surfer magic didn’t stop there. As she returned to shore, she was greeted by a crew of amazing volunteers who adorned her with medals, hugs, and trophies. The care each individual showed our children is something I will never be able to describe. These are the images that will be etched in my memory forever.
And these are the images you will see in photos: kids descending smiley and salty from surfboards; walking hand-in-hand with volunteers toward the ocean; and riding waves propped up by gentle surfers. But there are some things you simply can’t capture: the mother who has been counting the minutes until this perfect day; the father who takes his child to occupational therapy every day hoping for a breakthrough; the feelings welling up inside parents who get to greet the beaming, confident kid who returns to them so excited that they won’t stop talking about it. The communication barrier, for at least this moment, has been broken. These are the moments we live for.
Many people talk about what Surfers Healing does for kids, and truthfully, that’s the most important thing. But as parents, our children’s joy is our joy, and we are healed through this experience too.
I remember being told all of the things Aerabella would never do. Even things like walking up stairs without help would be a challenge. Many of our kids struggle to hold an eating utensil. But on one perfect day, our children get up on surf boards, bask in the warmth of our Ohana, and fill an entire beach with love. These amazing kids show us that when we accept one another for who we are, anything is possible. So instead of asking a child with autism to fit into our world, we should enter theirs, because in their world everyone is welcome.
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.