After school programs have been a part of youth culture for a very long time. I’m not talking about, “A very long time ago I took ballet in first grade.” or “A very long time ago I was on a t-ball team until Joey Goldfarb made fun of me for running the wrong way around the bases and I quit. Jerk.” This is more like, “A very long time ago my great grandfather played t-ball until Joey Goldfarb’s great grandfather made fun of him for running the wrong way around the bases.” (Yes, I’m convinced my gawky athletic ineptitude spans generations and is, in fact, genetic.)
Okay, maybe it’s not exactly like that, but after school programs have been around since the end of the 1800’s which is a pretty long time. With newly enacted child labor laws firmly in place, children suddenly found themselves with nothing to do between the hours of about 3:00 and 5:00 pm. To prevent the trouble that inevitably stems from boredom, ‘boy’s clubs’ were formed. These clubs acted as drop-in centers for those few hours after school let out.
Since then the term ‘after school program’ doesn’t just mean a room in which to contain your kids so they don’t do unsupervised dumb things. Kids participate in everything from painting classes to basketball. But we’re not talking about basketball. Don’t get us wrong, we love a rousing basketball… um… competition? meet? game? match? We just prefer quidditch (yes, I know, this one started as a made up game fro the Harry Potter series but Harvard has a team so I figure that’s legit), hurling, or sepak takraw. You know, the out-of-the-box sports.
The A.Skate Foundation fits the bill, not because it’s some strange oddity of the sports world where you use your pinky toe to throw volleyballs across an ice-skating rink or anything like that. A.Skate fits the bill because it takes a fairly familiar sport: skateboarding, and uses it in an unexpected role: as therapy.
The Alabama-based A.skate Foundation is a registered 501c3 non-profit that holds free clinics for children with autism. The foundation also gives grants to children for skateboard gear and strives to raise awareness about autism.
The A.Skate website explains, “Autism, like skateboarding, can be unpredictable and often times unruly. [They] embrace the parts of autism that are hard to understand and give […] kids an outlet that is free of rules or judgment, and allows them to be social without being ‘social’.”
Founder, Crys Worley was inspired to create A.Skate by her son’s response to skateboarding. Sasha Worley, like many kids with autism, had difficulties relating to others and was prone to isolating himself until he started skateboarding. The healing and happiness Worley noticed in her son is what she’s hoping to give to other autistic children and their families. In the trailer for Heart Child, a documentary film about Worley’s experience and the creation of A.Skate, Worley describes skating as her son’s “mental savior.” She says skating is “where he is going to be able to go when he’s just tired of the world and tired of people and just tired of himself.” Worley describes skating as a potential resource for her son and other kids dealing with autism.
Five years ago 1:150 children were diagnosed with autism. Today 1:88 children are diagnosed. Autism is a developmental disorder. Symptoms of the disorder vary from person to person, but behaviors may include impaired social interaction, delayed and disordered language, and having isolated areas of interest. People with autism might avoid eye contact or have strong or unusual reactions to various sensory stimuli (the way things taste, smell or feel.) They might get upset by minor changes or have trouble following directions. These are all things that can make it pretty hard to be part of a traditional team.
Skateboarding, on the other hand, is a sport that has always existed on the fringes of society. It belongs to the punks, the pierced and the dyed. It is a sport that has its roots in the counterculture movement. Skating has always been a little bit outside of the rules. It’s a good way for kids who struggle with the mainstream to connect and communicate with a sport as well as with the world around them.
A.Skate sums it up pretty well. No team, no coach, rip solo.