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Above The Wake Empowers Children With Autism On The Water

Above the Wake creates positive experiences on the water for children with autism and their families. The Bay City, MI-based nonprofit has seen the numerous benefits of new activities for children with cognitive disorders. 

Founder Tom Hart, who spent years coaching and teaching swimming lessons to children with autism, has seen how trying new things boosts their confidence and mood. Both children and their families end up having a positive experience on a lake, learning water safety and new skills.

For Hart, it’s always been all about the kids.

Photo Courtesy Above the Wake 

“None of my children have autism. It just really is a love of kids,” Hart said to ABC’s “13 on Your Side.” 

“Life’s come full circle for me,” he said. “I was like, ‘Hey, this is something that we can do, or we can spread this to people that were just being missed.’”

Because watersports require a lot of focus and are generally a social activity, Hart felt they could be a perfect experience for children with autism.

“It’s the perfect type of recreational therapy,” he said to “M Live.” “You really need to focus in order to be successful.”

“It breaks your heart when you hear that a kid doesn’t have a lot of friends,” Hart continued. “This program is an opportunity for those kids to be the center of attention for the day and build confidence.”

Founded in 2014, Above the Wake has one main goal: to show that children with cognitive delays can do the same activities as any child. With a focus on wakeboarding and paddle boarding — even water skiing — the nonprofit’s programs are set up with six different learning levels from beginner to experienced. Children can move up the levels at their own pace.

Photo Courtesy Above the Wake 

“We’ve seen some pretty amazing stuff,” Hart said. “A kid gets in the water who is unsure of himself and, by the end, we can’t get him out of the water.”

Though the majority of the paddle program is based in Haithco Park, MI, and the boat program nearby in West Branch, Above the Wake also has a travel program called Cables4ACause. It teaches water sports all over the U.S. at different water cable parks. So far, Cables4ACause has visited 11 various cable water parks in seven states.

Video Courtesy Marley Boerema

Above the Wake’s services are free to any child with autism. Families are encouraged to sign up to attend events on the company’s website, and donations are also accepted there.”The best part about what we’re doing is the smiles,” Hart told ABC’s “13 on Your Side.” “We’re a nonprofit. We don’t make a ton of money, but we definitely have a whole pocket full of smiles because the event[s] help[s] us reach a lot of children.”

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