Brodie Bessner, an 8-year-old home schooled boy, grabbed his skateboard and walked toward the cement-sheltered stage. The weather was rainy in Pflugerville, Texas, and the group skateboarding event had been moved under the covering at the skate park.
After two months of owning a board, Brodie was ready to practice skateboarding. With help from a volunteer, Brodie stepped on his board, held on tight to the hands of the volunteer, and prepared to jump.
The Founder of A.skate, Crys Worley, created the organization to help her autistic son, Sasha, and many others. The A.skate Foundation, a non-profit organization founded in 2010, allows children with autism to be a part of a social world through skateboarding.
“The parents have to help them and have to direct their kids and take them out and be places,” Worley said. “For our family and many families, skateboarding is that connection other than just the nurturing side of taking care of your kid.”
Brodie Bessner, like all the other kids at the A.skate event, has been diagnosed with autism. Experts classify autism as a developmental disorder. This developmental disorder, as of now, cannot be cured; however, people can help those diagnosed by better understanding autism. Those who study autism say the important thing for parents to know, if they have an autistic child, is that they need to provide social interaction for their child to develop.
A boy at the A.skate event was too little to steer a skateboard by himself, but he was not too small to ride. The boy’s dad, with help from a volunteer, helped his son place both knees on top of the skateboard. The dad, with both hands on either side of his son, gave his son a small push. The boy was off and rolling. The boy was smiling.
Some parents may not see the benefits of skateboarding for autistic children. Based on the child parent interaction, the boy’s participation in skateboarding allowed him to have fun and be social.
Dr. Jody Jensen, a Professor in the Department of Kinesiology & Health Education at the University of Texas at Austin, is the co-founder of The Autism Project. She has found that with early intervention, like through skateboarding, autistic children can be helped.
“We do know that children who are diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, however with early intervention and the right intervention, can often later test and achieve scores that reflect they are no longer on the autism spectrum,” Jensen said. “That is not to say there is a cure.”
For many autistic children, it’s hard to communicate their ideas or be social.
Bessner and his son were walking through a Vans skate shop one day checking out the store’s t-shirts. After looking at their merchandise, a store clerk slipped a postcard into Brodie’s plastic bag. Brodie looked at the card, but didn’t tell his father. On the postcard was an advertisement that informed skaters about A.skate coming to Pflugerville to teach a clinic on skateboarding.
“He was like, ‘Dad can we try this?’” Bessner said. “He showed me this postcard for the A.skate Foundation, and I was like, ‘Sure, why not.’”
Why Brodie waited two months to tell his dad about the event is unclear, but the fact that he decided to tell his father may have changed his life.
“He’s done like a two hundred percent improvement just in the past hour,” Bessner said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Skateboarding gives children with autism the opportunity move, improve and have fun. Jensen has found in her research that it is important to get autistic kids involved in such movement in order to further their social growth.
“Skateboarding is going to be something that you get 4-year-olds, 5, 8, etc., those ages on the skateboard,” Jensen said. “The earlier we can get kids involved in movement, the more exploration of their environment that they do.”
Although children with autism may need more interaction and social push, they are just like many other kids.
“Children with autism are more like typically developing children then they are different from them,” Jensen said. “So play, and just engagement in family social activity is really important.”
As the parent of an autistic child, Worley understands that skateboarding is not the cure of her son’s developmental disorder, but the support and aid that her son needs to live life happily.
One day at home, Worley’s son Sasha had a meltdown. He needed to leave the scene. Sasha grabbed his skateboard, opened the front door, and told his mom he was going skateboarding by himself down the street. Sasha skated for about an hour. He rode back home and opened the door. Worley saw that her son was happy.
“Brings me back to that day that I really understood that this is something that he needs and that he can use forever,” Worley said. “When he starts to become anxious or have anxiety, he knows he needs to skateboard and he now makes that connection, follows through and does that. It’s just really exciting and I know that feeling of being a proud parent.”
Many parents with autistic children at the A.skate event look for the best ways to care for their child’s health, life and education.
It is common to see parents of autistic kids, like both Bessner and Worley, home school their child. For Bessner, home schooling was a better option because Brodie had trouble in school.
In first grade, Brodie started lagging behind in some classes. The school district didn’t have the time or capabilities to assist Brodie with his learning disabilities.
“It was getting frustrating, so we ended up pulling him out of school and started home schooling,” Bessner said. “We feel we’re making progress through that effort.”
On the day of the A.skate event, Bessner was a proud parent of his son. Although it was a cloudy day, Brodie and his fellow Autistic skateboarders were ready to shine.
After stepping on his board and grabbing hold of the volunteer, Brodie was eager to try to learn a new trick. Brodie began rolling, smiling with excitement. As he approached the obstacle, the volunteer put a foot under Brodie’s board and lifted his hands.
“Then I jumped over a water bottle,” Brodie said. “And I did a hippy hop.”
It did not matter that Brodie had help or only jumped over a water bottle. The idea that he tried and had fun while interacting with others was the ultimate reward for many volunteers and parents.
Some volunteers, like Vans A.skate supporter Forrest Homerding, find it inspiring and rewarding to help those in need.
“Hearing him just scream from the excitement, and the smile, and jumping with joy is probably more rewarding itself than receiving a Nobel Prize because you’re giving somebody what they have never had before in a new way of form and shape of happiness,” Harding said.
Children like Brodie are appreciative of the help they have been given.
“Well I do like skateboarding a lot, and I knew it was going to be a lot of fun,”
Brodie said.Autism can be an obstacle. The disorder is not fun. However, with help from skateboarding and volunteers, autistic children can attempt that jump.