Snowsports program for children with autism comes to Mt. Abram
A Maine snowsports program designed to benefit children with autism and their families will offer services at Mt. Abram this winter, according to a press release from Spurwink, a nonprofit organization that provides mental health, education, and residential services for children, adolescents, adults, and families.
With autism diagnoses increasing across the country, many parents are struggling to find recreational activities that meet the needs of the whole family, the release said. In northern New England, those caring for loved ones with autism are discovering that snowsports, such as skiing and snowboarding, can be beneficial to children with autism, as well as their siblings and parents.
Individuals with autism often experience difficulty with movement and can benefit from exercise. Skiing and snowboarding stimulate the body’s motor system, providing much-needed sensory input that can help with balance and motion impairments, joint problems—even difficulty starting and stopping actions. A family member with autism can also enjoy a day on the slopes along with everyone else.
Last year in collaboration with Sugarloaf, Spruce Point on the Slopes, a Spurwink program, launched an effort to support individuals with autism who were enrolled in ski school lessons.
Spruce Point provides specialized services to individuals with autism.
This winter Spruce Point is expanding and teaming up with Mt. Abram to provide the same service.
Benjamin Kahrl, father of six-year-old Lily, remembers the look on his daughter’s face when she skied for the first time. “She absolutely loved it,” he said. “For our family, Spruce Point on the Slopes has meant being able to take a vacation together. In the past, we had to plan separate activities that were appropriate for each child. Now, we can do these things together.”
As part of the program a Spruce Point specialist stays with the child throughout the entire lesson. The specialists provide snowsports coaches with insights on how individuals with autism communicate, what their sensory issues are, what motor planning difficulties they may have, and how they relate to others.
Spruce Point specialists have backgrounds in special education, speech and language therapy, social work, or direct care, and many come with years of experience aiding individuals with autism.
The Spruce Point program allows families to drop their children off at ski school and feel confident they will be understood, well cared for, and integrated within the group.
“Children with autism and their families are often so very involved in education, meetings, and special therapies that there is little time or energy left over for fun,” said Sue Murphy, coordinator of the program and director of adult services at Spurwink. “With winters being as long as they are in Maine, it only made sense to expand specialized services to the ski areas, and both Sugarloaf and now Mt. Abram have embraced the idea.”
Specialists will be available at Mt. Abram on Sundays, beginning in January. The program charges an hourly fee, in addition to the lesson cost.
Spruce Point has applied for grant monies to help support the program. If awarded, scholarships may be available.
For more information, visit spurwink.org/sprucepoint/slopes.
Making the slopes family friendlier
To mark the new partnership between Spruce Point and Mt. Abram, the ski resort is offering a special package to two children and their families. The children will receive free lessons, lift tickets, and rentals and one-on-one sessions with a Spruce Point specialist on three Saturdays between Jan. 5 and the February school break.
Family members who would like to learn to ski may take advantage of a $49 learn-to-ski package. To encourage further participation in the sport for the remainder of the season, $20 lift tickets also will be offered to the child and family members.