Anyone who knows me knows that I love the beach. I love the way that the ocean feeds all of my senses and is always changing. So when I heard that several of the families that I work with were attending this year’s Surfers Healing day at Wrightsville Beach, I could not resist the opportunity to observe. Surfers Healing is an organization that provides one day surfing camps to children with autism. Their purpose is to enrich the lives of people living with autism by exposing them to the unique experience of surfing, which frankly doesn’t sound like much in light of the other types of work being done to help individuals with autism. One day, a few rides on a surf board, not exactly like working with the methylation cycle or developing dynamic intelligence. But a day at the beach is a day at the beach and I was open. I am so grateful that I went. Once again I learned that nature has a way of putting things into perspective, and being surrounded with good people is good for the soul.
While there I had the chance to speak with the founder of Surfers Healing, Izzy Paskowitz. He was standing next to me looking at the joyful faces and telling me about the way the ocean heals people. How it surrounds people and fills them with its smells, sights, and tactile sensations. He is a believer in nature and a believer in the kindness of people. Each child is assigned to a highly trained and competent surfer, who helps the child to go into the water and catch a few waves. Almost every child I saw was able to stand on the board and feel the thrill. The looks on their faces were of pure joy. Families standing on the shore were taking pictures and feeling pride in their children. Watching this, it struck me that the purpose of Surfers Healing was not to simply expose children with autism to the sport, but to create anchor memories for the child and the families. Memories of being brave. Of being guided with a trusted, very cool surfer dude. Memories of having their sensory systems regulated and being free from the fight, flight and fear that so many feel on a daily basis. And memories for families of watching their child succeed, feeling pride in how their child can do something many cannot and memories of good people taking the time to surround their child with loving support.
Anchor memories are the good memories that we can refer to in our times of distress. They are the referent point for similar memories from our past and potential good memories to come. They can be pulled upon when forming our sense of self, who we are and what we learned through our experiences. Positive anchor memories are worth their weight in gold. They have the potential to impact us for a lifetime.
Of course you do not need to be a surfer to create anchor memories with your child. Positive memories with your child can be simple, like a moonlit walk or making lasagna together. Sleeping outside on the front porch on a hot summer night, walking with flashlights to find frogs, indoor picnics under the Christmas tree, playing in the sprinkler and baking cookies are some positive anchor memories from my own childhood. What makes them anchors, is the way that I recall them. When I hear, smell, taste or feel something similar, these memories are evoked. And with those memories are the positive feelings that go along with them. Those memories serve me well.
I hope as summer comes to an end that you take the time to create some positive anchor memories of time spent with your child.
And here’s a really sweet video of one of my little friends! It’s IMPOSSIBLE to resist smiling at this video. I’d say he and his parents have some brand new, and very positive, anchor memories.