Confessions of a Believer
AoA Contest Winners for Saving Ben: A Father's Story of Autism

Surfer's Healing Narragansett, Rhode Island Helps Kids with Autism

SH sign

Managing Editor's Note: I've had the pleasure of meeting Alison McNeil, a true Mother Warrior for her son Nick. Husband Dave is a Father Warrior too. You can visit the Surfer's Healing RI blog HERE to read more about the event held yesterday, September 19th, 2009.

By Alison McNeil

We spent today at Surfer's Healing in Narragansett, RI. Something about the juxtaposition of phenomenal athletes with complete understanding of Autism confidently getting my screaming four year old onto a surfboard and the emotional impact of sharing the beach with one hundred children with Autism (and that's 100 vaccine injured children in my opinion) left me awestruck. 

SH on the board

I was amazed over and over again as I watched intensely disabled children struggle to get to the shoreline and then relax onto the board as the surfers paddled them out and let them feel the peacefulness of resting and floating in the water. And then to see, severely autistic children, doing all their necessary accommodating behaviors-scripting, galloping, stimming on the beach stand up and glide in on their surfboards with looks of triumphant pride on their faces. I cried every time.

My son found it pretty scary and took his typical three hour beach nap after his turn. But I will take him again the second the chance comes. My NT daughter, eight, thought the day was unfair, "why is everything for kids with Autism", she grumbled on the way home. Which led to a pretty serious conversation about how actually almost everything in the world isn't set up for kids with Autism.

SH dudes

The entire event is free, food is donated, wetsuits and life jackets.All you need to do is show up. I would encourage you to. These people get Autism and yet they move you beyond it so fast. I was all ready to give some schpeel about how Nick was scared and would need this and that, etc...when this amazing surfer just gently scooped him into a bear hug and off they went to surf. It was a stretch for both of us, for me to let him go, to trust this beautiful stranger with my child, and for him to try something so new and foreign to him.

SH child

I was putting his jammies on a little while ago and I asked him what he thought of the whole thing and he said, "And Nick was O.K." with his proud face on. Thank you Surfer's Healing.

Alison MacNeil is the mom of two kids. Her four year old son, Nick was lost into Autism after the final assault of his 15 month vaccines. She is  a Clinical Social Worker at new Developmental Collaborative at NESCA, in Newton MA and a Rescue Angel.


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I am definitely going to do this next year with my son. I have only heard good things!

Interesting that your daughter's comment brought up that conversation. Have to say- our "siblings" deserve special treatment sometimes too. When we go to disney and have our special needs pass, we use it even when it is a ride where my autistic son can't ride. Where else do these kids get an advantage because their brother has autism? There is so much we (all) can't do because of autism.


Alison and Laureen we did the North Carolina stop. My wife was so scared thinking about our 3 year old out in the ocean surfing waves, the night before she dreamed of sharks but it was perfectly awesome. These are world famous surfers, they were surprisingly loving, gentle and patient. The kids along the beach were well behaved and as all who have experienced it can tell you, they were thrilled. I have to admit how proud I was to see my son overcome fear, to trust, to respond to instruction (standing up on the board), braved being wet, cold and being alone with a complete stranger in the middle of the ocean and how the next morning he asked right off the bat if he could go surfing with Izzy. Oprah's camera crew was there filming. These Surfers Healing folk are miracle workers! Magical day for sure.

If Ben connected and found comfort in the water, the ocean sounds, the movement of the waves, the sun, the seagulls, the salt air, the sand, the 30 seconds of effortless travel, gliding across the water, then he is now one step closer to becoming that little boy we lost to autism when he was exactly 366 days old.

Sometimes God is good.


Wonderful story!! Brought tears to my eyes.

Laureen Forman

This is a event that we done 2 times already. This last one here in San Diego a bunch of local parents with kids with Autism (we call ourselves PITAS) went on the same day. All I can say is that the day was such a high for the kids and the parents. I'm lucky that my husband has a great camera lens and got over 700 pictures of the kids way out there with the surfers. The most amazing thing to me is the sheer look of joy on these kids faces - the smiles that we were able to see that we could not on the beach were priceless. And not only were the kids grinning from ear to ear, but the surfers had that same look of joy and smiles just as wide. To me, it is the most typical day of the year for my son and the pictures that we got were worth more than anything to me because it's so rare that I see that look of joy on his face.

The best part of this story is that one of my friends kids was out with a very famous surfer (we did not now it at the time until someone told us) and he surfed for 3 hours and was a natural. They have now found something that he loves to do and have purchased a surf board and are now taking him surfing.

It's so rare to have a day like this for our kids and I will say, I will never forget it. It's something I will treasure in my heart forever.


Like Benedetta, your line about the stranger scooping your child up and taking him to the water made me cry. I immediately called my mother and shared your story.

Benedetta Stilwell

I have not had many emotional highs or lows for a long time, but some how your story of a decent, kind, stranger coming in scooping up a little boy so he can have some fun made me cry.

Jessamyn LeClair

I just wanted to comment that I was so moved by what I saw yesterday, I had to google it and find out what it was all about... my family and I took our dogs to the beach yesterday and I knew something good was happening! Bravo to all who make these events happen and what a beautful day it was. Best of luck to you and your family......

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