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Different Strokes, What It's Like Instructing Differently Abled Children

Dan, enjoys teaching stand up paddling to differently abled children. Dan, enjoys teaching stand up paddling to differently abled children.

Written by Dan Willmore

CARDIFF, California - So, you’re a stand up paddleboard instructor looking for a new challenge or maybe you just love stand up paddle boarding and would like to get involved with the instructing side of this incredibly diverse sport. How do you get involved and what are your options? There are a wide range of options from flat-water racing; open water adventure paddles, surfing, yoga, down winding the list goes on. My passion is working with differently abled children and adults and as part of the Water Skills Academy (WSA) we believe that everyone should have the opportunity to have positive and fun water based experiences while feeling safe and secure. As part of the WSA we have designed a module specifically aimed at working with differently abled individuals.

Working in this area is one of the most rewarding experiences I think anyone can have as an instructor. In some cases you may be giving someone a life changing experience. A reason for them to want to leave the house put down the Xbox controller, close the laptop and get out into the fresh air. I know this as I have had a number of young people that come to my sessions and it’s the only time and reason in a week they want to leave the house. The benefits and outcomes for them to take part in such activities like this are massive. At all our sessions the group are always smiling and interacting with each other in a super positive way. They learn about water safety and building their own water confidence while developing their social skills. They improve their personal confidence and self-esteem while becoming physically healthier which in turn improves their mental health. These individuals start to believe in themselves and gain confidence in other areas of their lives. It sounds too good to be true but I see it everyday with the people that I work with.

different strokes 1Dan enjoys the feeling of helping those that are differently abled and giving them a rewarding experience. | Photo Courtesy: Ben Longhurst

I have worked with individuals that couldn’t access the classroom or are withdrawn from their peers or can't interact or engage with their family and friends but after taking part in these activities they start feeling special like they have achieved something amazing, which then makes them believe they can do much more than they ever thought possible. Once individuals start to gain this kind of confidence they are able to access more of the life that they were withdrawing from previously. To be honest you don’t have to believe me but have a go and see it for yourself.

When running adventurous water based activities it can be a daunting feeling for everyone evolved regardless of whether you are the student, instructor or parent but the key is planning and having realistic goals. For some the fact they have a wetsuit on and are floating around may be life changing and for others you may be delivering a more straightforward “mainstream” lesson. But above everything else the key word like with anything is fun. If you are having fun they will be having fun, which in turn will make the teaching and learning process much easier.

Communication is the key to all forms of teaching but in my experience it is the most important roll when working in this area. When we are running our sessions we use a lot of key skills and techniques to communicate from certain speech patterns to communication cards that offer a much simpler version of things you may want to communicate. My advice is try to keep in simple and don’t over complicate things that really don’t need over complicating.

different strokesDan currently runs The Surf Experience, where he works with young people who have ASD. | Photo Courtesy: Ben Longhurst

The Surf Experience (TSE) itself started as a program that I developed in a school based in Cardiff, which predominantly worked with young people who have ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). Eventually the program, like the school grew and we now work with individuals who have a wide range of disabilities both physical and mental. As the name implies TSE works with differently abled individuals teaching them to surf, flow ride and stand up paddleboard. But the main purpose is to improve confidence, self-esteem and physical and mental health through positive outdoor interactions.

The aim of our module is to give candidates a solid platform to work from. We don’t claim to know everything about everything and we are certainly not doctors. However we aim to constantly improve and develop our knowledge base in this area through constant positive experiences. We really want to pass on what we have learned and hope that as we do more and more individuals who have different needs get to have amazing experiences.

Last modified onTuesday, 10 February 2015 10:54
Dan Willmore

CARDIFF, California - Dan has been a passionate surfer for the last ten years. He recently discovered stand up paddle boarding in 2011 and has fully embraced the sport in all its aspects from surfing to adventure paddles, distance and racing.

San Diego