Creating and providing equal opporunities for all is a major part of life in Scotland today.
Glyn Morris and Kev Anderson run a surf school, for people with autism.
Based on the Moray Firth, they have been giving people with autism the chance to take to the waves.
Scottish Field spoke to Glyn about the venture.
How did you first come up with the idea for an autism-friendly surf school?
It’s all about adventure. I feel that life is about can, rather than can’t, and I want to encourage people to push their boundaries. It all came from a conversation with Kev Anderson, a surfing instructor. We started the school last year on a shoestring, with just two surfboards, and we’ve put lots of effort into raising funds to buy equipment and train volunteers.
The background is more personal. My son Gregor, who’s 17, has autism and is very much in his own world. He is non-verbal, and has severe epilepsy and mobility issues.
What makes surfing such a good thing for people with autism?
When you look at it on paper, it’s almost set up to fail. There are sensory issues, which cause problems, especially for those who are hyper-sensitive. The beach environment, with the texture of the sand, taste of the salt water and the tightness of the wetsuit, could all be viewed as barriers. But it’s all about redirecting focus.
We gave it a go and so far we’ve not had anyone who hasn’t enjoyed it. In fact, the kids are so engaged with it that the main problem is trying to get them back in from the water. Surfing is cool too. When you tell people that you surf, they say, ‘Wow, that’s awesome,’ so it’s something the kids want to get involved in.
How does it benefit your pupils?
It’s non-competitive, and although there is a social aspect, that is not the only focal point. So the kids are socialising in a small group as well as engaging with the surfboard. They’re also learning about the beach environment and the risks of surfing. It gives them an understanding of the sea. The safety aspect is very important to us.
Is the school only for children?
No, our oldest surfer is 30. We have 45 students, but that number is growing. And we’re not just open to people with autism – we encourage their siblings and parents to get in the water too. It’s nice to include families, but we have seven volunteers who can step in if they’re not keen.
What’s the best thing about running the school?
Bringing individuals out of isolation. Often, families might have felt they can’t go anywhere. And when parents say, ‘I don’t think my child will enjoy this,’ that’s like fuel to the fire. We can find a way to get pupils to stretch their boundaries without them knowing it. It’s all about the approach you take. Kev and the team do that so well. We all have an understanding of autism and share strategies. If one thing doesn’t work, there’s always something else to try.
For more details click HERE.
This feature was originally published in 2016.