On Wednesday, the Canadian news organization The Globe and Mail introduced another form of autism therapy with little scientific backing but plenty of promise among caregivers: surfing.
The aquatic coping strategy dug its roots with former professional surfer Israel Paskowitz, who runs the non-profit organization Surfers Healing with his wife. Based in California, Surfers Healing gives autistic children free surf camps. The Paskowitzes were inspired to found the organization when their autistic son found solace in surfing, calming down from frequent mental outbursts.
Surfers Healing made their first stop in Canada for the Aloha Toronto fundraising event. The organization hosts around 20 camps annually in the United States, getting assistance from donors and volunteers who currently engage in professional surfing.
Similar to many recent intervention strategies, researchers are skeptical of the long-term benefits of surfing as a form of therapy for autistic children, citing a lack of evidence. One scientist noted the difficulties for parents who discover the overwhelming number of activities suggested as therapeutic for autistic children, saying parents are told to swim with dolphins one week, horse-back riding the next week, and surfing the following week.
The absence of peer-reviewed studies does not discourage surfing’s supporters, who say surfing can improve a child’s balance since many members of the autism spectrum have motor skill deficiencies. Like other recreational activities, surfing fans suggest the exercise allows kids a respite from a schedule dominated by treatments, helping autistic children feel accepted among their adult colleagues.
Research-based evidence has formed in the related subject of hydrotherapy. The tactic has been used to treat injuries and illness, but a 2010 study published in the scholarly journal Autism reported swim classes may help autistic kids improve social skills and self-confidence.
Surfers Healing hopes visits to Toronto and other Canadian cities will become an annual occurrence.
With the story, surfing joins the list of multiple treatments touted for positive effects in addressing autistic behaviors, but currently lack credible evidence for the scientific segment of the autism community to support with authority. However, while autism is often associated with mental symptoms, the majority of autistic people also have hypotonia (low muscle tone) and apraxia (poor motor planning).
Most accepted forms of intervention have an educational slant, and little is known about physical activity, but even if surfing does not permanently remove or mitigate autistic traits, there are many clear benefits to overall health by participating in a physical regimen.