Drowning is the leading cause of death in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Elopement explains this phenomenon. Neurodiverse kids may wander off when they see the light reflecting off the water. When they go unnoticed, tragedy may ensue.

The link between autism and drowning is more unfortunate in Australia. Most of the country’s population calls the coast home and obsesses about the beach. Naturally, most children living with ASD nationwide miss out on all the fun. That’s why Ocean Heroes is critical to these young Aussies. This charity aims to turn the treacherous waves into a safe playground for neurodivergent kids to boost their self-confidence — and then some.

Surfing as an Equalizer

Helping young ones on the spectrum know where to get into the water and where not to to keep them safe is Ocean Heroes’ primary mission. However, the nonprofit’s advocacy is so much more than that

Neurodiverse youth typically struggle socially. This developmental disorder involves various social communication deficits, including failing to understand how others think and feel, being less inclined to share interests, using non-verbal gestures poorly, and speaking in a stilted manner. Children with autism have difficulties making and keeping friends as a result.

One of Ocean Heroes’ co-founders — Luke Hallam — is fully aware of the unique social challenges children on the spectrum face. He had a personal training business for people with disabilities, exposing him to ASD’s profound effects on people’s lives. As the charity’s programs director, Luke has been stoked to give more than 7,000 children living with this disorder and their families access to fun social events since 2016.

Aside from meeting other autism community members, these little surfers get to spend time with two skilled instructors who passed the Working With Children Check. Their interactions with friendly and caring grown-ups help them enjoy being with strangers, come out of their shells and forge relationships.

Participating in Ocean Hero events teaches kids how to overcome adversity as they learn the ropes of surfing. Noting progress and celebrating small and big milestones like getting up on the board can give them a sense of accomplishment. At the end of each session, they earn a certificate they can show to their mates and bring home as a reminder to feel good about themselves.

Beach Culture as a Galvanizer

Ocean Heroes is a volunteer-run organization. The charity wouldn’t have been as successful without the kind-hearted beach bums who want to turn their passion into action and use surfing as a holistic health intervention for children with ASD

The nonprofit attracts volunteers from all walks of life, including lifeguards, football players, physiotherapists and D-level executives. Although they come from various backgrounds, their love for the sport and desire to give back to the community unite them.

While all the volunteers have a soft spot for helping neurodivergent kids, others may be more interested in promoting physical fitness in children. This has become a significant concern in the digital age where children are often glued to electronics for 7.5 hours daily and become more susceptible to obesity, diabetes and other health problems linked to a sedentary lifestyle.

Regardless of what makes volunteers tick, what matters is their willingness to dedicate their time and energy to the cause. They’re the reason Ocean Heroes can hold fully equipped free events and accept bookings for personalized Surf Experience sessions in various locations nationwide paid using funds from the Australian government through the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

This Perth-based organization has been spreading good vibes in new cities. Its expansion rate relies on its volunteer network’s growth. The charity is riding on the wave of good press to magnetize more altruistic souls who can help out on the beach or in the water and extend its services to more children on the spectrum.

Ocean Heroes — Offering Neurodiverse Kids Surf Lessons to Save the Day

Ocean Heroes epitomizes the Aussie spirit — instilling mateship in children at the beach. While Wolverine and Thor may come from Australia, the real superheroes don wetsuits, throw shakas and bond with neurodiverse youth over surfing.

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About Author

Mia Barnes is a lifestyle and wellness writer and the Editor in Chief at BodyMind.com. When Mia isn't writing, she can usually be found reading, jogging or volunteering at one of her local animal shelters.

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