Being an expat is both fun and challenge, and starting a family abroad adds a whole new dimension to the experience. Attitudes towards parenting and education can be different coming from another country. Plus when two of my three kids were diagnosed with autism, those differences became even more apparent. Friends and family in Austria are still not convinced that autism is even a thing, and the Americans in our lives may wonder what the hold up is in regards to medication and behavioral interventions.
Between those two extremes, I did discover common ground and opportunities here in Colorado that we might not have back home. The common ground is that we all love our kids regardless of labels and that our time together is precious. Among the opportunities here in Colorado I have to list a thriving community of families who embrace autism, a wide variety of non-profit initiatives and progressive special needs educators in our neighborhood public school. (Getting to be part of Boulder Valley School District was dumb luck; our experience might be quite different in other US cities).
Still, we all need to figure out what works for us, and can’t blindly follow experts’ advice. I feel that kids in general can’t ever get too much physical exercise, and those who struggle with body awareness and motor coordination need it even more. While every activity is beneficial, rock climbing stands out. Kids who climb in a gym can do so safely and without any peer pressure, at their own pace and skill level. Climbing challenges both body and mind, and it stimulates exactly those neural systems that kids with autism often struggle with: balance, body perception, and hand-eye coordination.
In an effort to bring out the best of all these factors, my husband, a friend and I started a non-profit called Autism Climbs, dedicated to empowering those affected by autism through rock climbing activities. The community support we receive is incredible, climbing gyms welcome us and dedicated climbers are willing to volunteer at our events. Participants truly appreciate us and the community we foster.
We now offer a variety of programs, our most popular being a monthly FUNdamental Family Climb, a free event where we invite families to bring all their kids, including siblings and friends, and have fun being active together. We also take small groups climbing outdoors, do 1:1 or small group private lessons for kids with autism and their siblings, and starting this fall a Parents’ Night Out, where we offer to climb with the kids while the parents can go on a rare date. Apart from these family services we do staff trainings in climbing gyms, helping them better understand the needs of climbers with autism and integrating them in group lessons and camps.
Autism Climbs is a registered 501(3)(c) non-profit organization, and all donations are tax deductible. Other ways to work with us include sponsoring a specific event or program, or simply volunteering at our events – it’s a lot of fun!
If you would like to participate, volunteer, donate or learn more about us and our upcoming events, please visit our website: autismclimbs.org
Explore. Bond. Climb!
Ilse Wagner (“Yisha”)
501(3)(c), FEIN: 47-4680885
*This is a guest blog provided by Ilse Wagner. The Austrian Honorary Consulate in Denver can not endorse this nonprofit specifically.