Surfing lessons break down barriers for kids with Autism

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A day of paddling and splashing on Pass-a-Grille Beach left smiles on the faces of hundreds of families Saturday morning.

It was their 8th annual beach festival called Surfers for Autism. Families from around the country came for a day of fun in the sun.

Organizers call it a unique form of therapy.

Kelly Cowart drove from Sarasota to Pass-a-Grille beach to see her 9-year-old son, Evan catch a wave.

“He has autism, Down syndrome and a couple of other diagnoses,” Kelly explained.

This is Kelly and Evan’s second year attending the Surfers for Autism beach festival, where Evan can relax and try new things with kids just like him and adults who understand.

“With a child who's special like Evan, sometimes when we go to the beaches, sometimes kids and people don't understand, and it gives him a chance to play in a welcoming environment,” Kelly explained.

Families register months in advance and drive from all over the country to take part in the beach festival.

Surfers for Autism President Don Ryan is proud to be part of the kids’ lives.

“Children speak for the first time because of this program. We're going to take away any social barriers. Some that aren't receptive to touch are going to be bear hugging,” Ryan said.

It's clear that something special is happening with this program but Ryan says they just can't put their finger on what it is.

“We've had pediatric neurologists and a lot of people come out and try to figure out scientifically what happens here. But the therapeutic benefit of what we're doing today by taking these individuals into the ocean, into the Gulf of Mexico, is groundbreaking,” he said.

The lessons and lunch were free for each participating family.

The memories made out on the water were priceless.