Giving a chance to all young skaters

Skateboarding is becoming the best option for youth with autism to get involved in sports. The fun and inclusive environment fosters community between one kid and another. Blair Durnan, the executive director of Spectrum Skateboard Society, is spearheading this initiative. The organization offers safe and exciting camps for neurodivergent children.

“The future of Spectrum Skateboard Society is to expand our reach across British Columbia, and eventually across Canada,” says Durnan, explaining his vision for the organization.

Durnan provides regular skateboarding camps in North Vancouver for youth on the autism spectrum between the ages of six and 17.

The beginnings of Spectrum Skateboard Society

From his native Ontario to Vancouver, Durnan has sought to share his passion for skateboarding with others. He has observed the positive impacts of skateboarding for kids with autism, and has since started his own organization.

Blair Durnan and his son have a common passion: skateboarding. | Photo courtesy of Spectrum Skateboard Society

“Currently, one in 66 children are being diagnosed with autism in Canada and we would love to bring the joy of skateboarding to all of them,” says Durnan.

Durnan’s love for skateboarding began at the age of 11. To him, it was an outlet for creativity, and since he moved to the North Shore, Durnan has continued to skate regularly. Now, he is the father of two children, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. When the pandemic first began in March of 2020, Durnan left his job to stay at home and homeschool his children. When they took breaks, he would take his boys to the local skatepark.

“Jack, who is autistic, really took a liking to it and started to really focus all his energy on practicing,” says Durnan, speaking about his son’s enthusiasm for skateboarding.

Before, Durnan had tried to put Jack in soccer and baseball but his son never enjoyed the team atmosphere. However, when his son first tried skateboarding, he immediately enjoyed overcoming challenges and learning new tricks.

Durnan graduated with a diploma in Therapeutic Recreation, and has many years of past experience working with neurodivergent children. Seeing his son enjoy each moment of skateboarding inspired Durnan to bring this passion into other kids’ lives.

“I have had parents in tears watching their child skateboarding,” says Durnan, “they have told me that they never thought that they would ever find an activity that they enjoy so much.”

Skateboarding’s beneficial effects

Durnan, as he watched his young son, was reminded that skateboarding is a fun sport that can help build social connections and skills. So, the idea to start Spectrum Skateboard Society was sparked.

“I have had kids come into our program that were very hesitant to even stand on a skateboard,” says Durnan, “and by the end of the lesson, were pushing themselves around and talking to other skaters.”

Starting the program, Durnan’s ultimate goal was to give neurodivergent children and youth a chance to feel like they truly belong.

“Skateboarding has no rules, no fields, no team, no coach telling you [that] you have to do it, and the majority of autistic kids struggle with all of these aspects of team sports,” says Durnan.

Currently, Spectrum Skateboard Society has 50 kids that continually come to the program throughout the year. The youngest member is six, and the oldest member is 16.

Skateboarding pushes children to take risks, both through the competitive aspect of learning new tricks and the social leap of talking with others. At Spectrum Skateboard Society, youth with autism are able to improve their communication and social skills.

“The one major learning experience that I have encountered is to never underestimate the ability of someone,” says Durnan. “We have had kids come that wouldn’t make eye contact or speak to anyone, and by the end of the first hour, they are hooting and smiling and talking with other participants.”

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