Telling His Story  
Telling His Story

Puzzled Surfer takes 2nd in Brevard

The Story of Puzzled Surfer


Puzzled Surfer is a loving reference to our 15 year old son, Shea.
Shea has Asperger Syndrome (AS), an autism spectrum disorder (hence- the puzzle reference.)  
As a result it seriously impacts Shea's ability to participate in many social and extracurricular activities with his peers. He must learn things certain ways and there can be quite a learning curve that, in a typical instructional setting, usually ends in frustration with little desire or interest to continue the activity.  But, then came surfing.
Shortly after moving to Florida from the Midwest, we noticed that Shea was fascinated watching people surf. He immediately insisted that he learn! Being a child with AS, we knew it was probably best to negotiate down to boogie boarding and let his newest obsession pass. 
The problem is that typically, the higher his interest...the higher his frustration with learning the skill. Combine zero patience and the result is often a horrific cycle of trying with the expectation of immediate success, followed by failure, and capped with an emotional breakdown...and then repeat (a cycle familiar to many parents of children in the autistic spectrum.) There is very little we as parents can do. He's not hearing our instruction, encouragement, cheering, or support. This is personal; it's between him and the activity and it often feels like a battle to the death. 
As a result, we limited Shea to boogie boarding, living to fight the surfing battle another day. 

After learning of a local SFA event, we thought it would be a great opportunity for him to try surfing in an environment that seemed safe, reassuring and specifically driven toward autistic children. It was everything they advertised. What an incredible organization! He was surrounded by a team of trained volunteers (his 'crew') and they walked him through some basics. The next thing we knew, they're out in the surf!  The volunteers knew exactly how to effectively communicate to get the best results from Shea seemingly on instinct--clearly they are very well trained.  As his parents, we are standing knee deep in the Atlantic, desperately wanting to shout "you need to do this... he can't do that... help him with...," and then it becomes very clear... they got this completely under control.  
While we are straining to see whether he's happy or mad, here he comes--rolling in on top of the surf, learning to stand and master his balance. He IS standing! We can see his face is twisted in concentration with fierce determination.  As he loses his balance- HE PANICS, running off the front of the board to avoid...we assume falling off?  He has disappeared under the surf. When he emerges from under the water he will either be the happiest boy in all of the earth's oceans OR completely outraged at the entire experience and looking to blame everyone from Jacksonville to the Keys for contributing to this conspiracy of failure...

We didn't have to wait long. As he shot up out of the water the entire beach was treated to the excited screams of success and satisfaction... all while making the obligatory signs of  'hang loose'!  

He has never looked back. Surfing IS his obsession.