Archie was featured in an article on the BBC website this week. (Although I’m not credited I took that photo with a little point and shoot.) I was on the whole pleased with the article – I wasn’t misquoted or anything. Yes I really did say stoked, although I think that quote is taken from this blog. The article sums up everything I believe to be great about surfing and then discusses whether surfing is an effective therapy for autism, and the need for control studies.
To be honest I’m not sure that surfing is a therapy and this point was not discussed during the interview. Archie certainly finds surfing therapeutic but then so do I. For me it’s an activity I do (badly) that allows me to escape into the sea for a few hours and switch off from everything going on with work and home. Therapeutic, but not therapy. For Archie I assume it’s the same but more so as it’s the only activity we have found he has ever really enjoyed for more than a few minutes. However, he is as autistic at the end of a surf as he is at the beginning, I don’t think anyone would claim otherwise. But he is happy and autistic. And happy is good. Whether it’s therapy or not perhaps depends on your definition of therapy.
The article strayed into talking about surfing as therapy when discussing the Wave Project a Cornish based scheme that has provided surfing for people from disadvantaged groups. This included an NHS pilot scheme examining the effect of surfing on people with mental health difficulties. And of course the NHS works with therapies and evidence based ones at that.
Locally this issue has been sidestepped as surfing has been funded by the council as a holiday activity for youngsters with disabilities. It is offered alongside sailing, theatre, dance, football, music making, and many other activities. (I should also pause to mention here that the council offer an enormous number of mainstream holiday activities as well). The council has been supportive in funding surfing, particularly I suspect because it fills a bit of a gap in that it has been able to take children with very severe learning disabilities who struggle to access most of the other activities offer. As an activity offered alongside others there’s no need for control studies, or ‘proof’, it just needs enough punters to make it worthwhile running. In this way surfing can be enjoyed for what it definitely is – a fun way to spend an hour or so. And if there are anecdotal reports of improvements in behaviour then that’s great as well, but it doesn’t (in my opinion anyway) matter that it’s anecdotal.
I would only ever go as far as saying if you want to give surfing a go, then don’t be put off if your child has severe learning disabilities. There are surf schools out there with the necessary skills to take your child surfing safely. They may not like it, they may like it a bit, or it may end up being life changing as it has for Archie.