Surfers Healing: 450 children with autism prepare to ride the waves

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Waves, high-fives, memories — an unforgettable day at the beach.

One Virginia Beach non-profit is making waves and giving hundreds of children living with autism the chance to do something many of us take for granted: a dip in the water.

Surfers Healing is a camp based out of Virginia Beach. According to the website, it was founded by Israel and Danielle Paskowitz. Their son, Isaiah, was diagnosed with autism at age three. Like many children with autism, he often suffered from sensory overload. Simple sensations could overwhelm him. The ocean was the one place where he seemed to find respite.

That’s the case for many other families, too. Joanna Bryant is a board member with the organization and her son was diagnosed with autism when he was 18-months-old.

“It has just brought a sense of joy and celebration to our family,” said Bryant. “They like looking around and feeling like everyone is like them.”

Surfers Healing is an organization that has been making waves in our community since 2005.

“I’ve heard families refer to it as a gift,” said Bryant. “We focus 364 days out of the year on our child’s challenges and therapies and this is one day we can celebrate their successes. This is a day to go out with other families to celebrate who are going through the same thing that they are.”

Often times, the event also means dealing with children who are scared to jump in. Last year, Allison Chappell and her mother, Jennie, watched the surfers from the sand.

“It’s probably one of the most beautiful moments of my life,” said Jennie Chappell. “It was amazing to watch surfers share their world with kids like my daughter.”

Allison Chappell, 16, was diagnosed with autism when she was in eighth grade.

“It’s hard to make friends when they don’t understand the bits of you that you don’t understand yourself,” said Allison.

But, she’s hoping that will change. Last year, she dipped her toe in the water and this year, she’s taking the plunge — literally. She’s heading to the Surfers Healing camp with 450 others on the autism spectrum.

“Wow, that’s a lot of people. My brain just short circuits when it thinks about that,” said Allison. “A lot of people who I never thought would be like me, different than me.”

Surfers Healing Camp runs Friday, August 19 through Saturday August 20. The camp is full, but there is a 5K open to the public.

Click here for more information.

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