As the number of children diagnosed with autism continues to climb -- one in 88 children -- parental demand of therapies that work intensifies.
This summer an 11-year-old Melbourne boy named Shea Edmondson-Wood discovered a passion and found his therapy in the surf of Florida’s beaches.
His dad Craig says when they went to the beach, the boy saw somebody surfing and said, “I want to do that.”
His parents were apprehensive. If he couldn't do it or didn't like it, they felt it could mean a meltdown.
But the results showed them they had nothing to fear.
Shea got his surfboard, a blue Mohawk and turned into a rock star. His parents can’t believe the change.
When he's at the beach, Shea even has an alias: The Puzzled Surfer.
The name represents his Asperger's Syndrome, a type of autism which affects his behavior and interaction with others.
“I know as a mom, I'm used to being in a store and, 'OK, Shea, try not to turn in circles.' Do all the typical things autistic kids tend to do, turn in circles, play with their hands and wonder, 'OK, who's looking at me thinking my kid's crazy,” says his mother, Sheri Edmondson-Wood.
Shea’s dad describes him as brilliant, incredibly smart, and very sensitive.
But up until the beginning of this summer, he says, “I would describe him as quiet."
“It's amazing. Out here, he's just a totally different 11-year-old person. And there's only one reason for it: because of all the attention they give him," said dad.
"They" are volunteers from Surfers for Autism and they treat him and others like rock stars. Shea calls them his crew.
The non-profit group hosts free surfing clinics for kids with autism all over Florida, and the goal is to create a fun and safe environment that lets these kids be themselves and even more.
"Once we get a kid in their first wave, the transformation is complete and total. we have non-verbal kids saying their first words. We have kids that don't like to be touched, bear-hugging instructors, sometimes walking hand-in-hand on the beach and they just come out of their shell in ways that don't happen outside the water," Gary Rossman a representative with Surfers for Autism told Local 6.
The first time Shea got on a board with Surfers for Autism, his sister Leah saw a change in her big brother right away.
"The first day I didn't know he could handle it, but the first time he got on, he surprised me," said Leah.
Shea quickly responded to Leah, saying, “I know, because I was so good."
The surfing clinics may be free but travel is not, so his mom and dad set up a website called Puzzled Surfer. It tells Shea's story and raises money to help him get to as many of the surfers for autism events as possible.
Shea says he plans to keep surfing so, “I can become the master."
His sister says he wants to be a professional surfer someday.
Shea also loves to be active on social media. Local 6 found out about him through Twitter. She says he loves counting the number of new visitors to his site, but not as much as surfing.