Chrys Worley of the A.skate Foundation works tirelessly to better the lives of children with autism. It would be impossible to exaggerate the amount of love and effort that she, and fellow A.skate volunteers, put into their work. On the eve of the A.skate X ZOO YORK collaboration deck release, we got a chance to talk with Chrys and board designer, Brian DiNonno about the therapeutic value of skateboarding and why they do what they do. Read the interview below.

A.Skate co-founders, Peter Karvonen and Chrys Worly with a friend at the NJ skate clinic.

Why did you start the A.skate Foundation?
Chrys Worley: My son has always been the inspiration for everything I do involved in the autism world. Seeing the impact that skateboarding had on my son for the very first time, I knew that it was something I needed to bring to light in hopes to help other children like him.

I can see in my head before every event how it’s going to pan out and each one ends up a success. From the planning of location, scrounging up funds to be able to travel, getting the support we need to work with the kids, and all else that’s involved is a full time job, but we, and everyone that works with us, work on a volunteer basis as of right now. We are so dedicated to bringing to light the positive effects that board sports have on specifically children with autism, we just keep pushing on and raising awareness in everything we do.

Can you describe why skateboarding specifically is therapeutic for kids with autism?
Many children with autism have sensory seeking behaviors. Sometimes it can be noise (ie: slamming cabinet doors over and over may make a child with autism content, but high pitch noises or loud music may set off a meltdown or negative behavior), motion, swinging, climbing, self abuse for pressure input. It can be a lot of things. When we hold clinics, we find the action of skateboarding specifically targets certain areas of sensory seeking and/or stimulates the child in a positive way. The motion of going back and forth on a half pipe is calming to many of the kids and they express it by asking for more either verbally, through sign language, or hand over hand. We offer one on one assistance with the children through our volunteers.  Many of the kids need this in order to learn in any setting, so they most often pick up on skateboarding and continue it at home on a regular basis.  We have 10-15 children attending a session at one time so they are able to see their peers, mimic what others are doing and learn. They also start to interact and it becomes a great way to socialize between the children. There are so many aspects of their disability that we are reaching out to through skateboarding without the child having to be a part of a team sport and follow rules which can be difficult for them.

Aside from what therapeutic benefits we feel skateboarding can offer, we are also seeing that many kids realize that they now have something really “cool” that they can share interest with other typical peers at school. We also believe that this is giving the kids an opportunity to exercise and with the percentage of autistic children being overweight growing, it’s really important that we try and find that “something” that helps keep them active. For my son and many others it has been skateboarding.

Z.Y. Field Agents, Dave Willis, Stephan Martinez, Kevin Tierney and a friend at the NYC skate clinic.

What have the kids and parents reactions been to the clinics?
Skateboarding seems to target some of the same areas of this disability that some therapists work hard to target as well. We have found that the kids who participate in our clinics are more verbal, social, calm, have excellent eye contact, and follow directions very well according to the feedback we receive from their parents. We have given hundreds of skateboards to kids through our grant program. Many parents have contacted us stating that they now use skateboarding as a daily therapy for their children. One mom recently sent us a photo of her son’s Applied Behavioral Analysis and a photo of her son at a skatepark skating to “chill” him out before his ABA session began. They report that her son’s attention and response to the ABA therapy is much better after he has had a short skateboarding session. As a parent we strive to connect with our children and for many of us we are able to connect with them through skateboarding. Interaction in general is a goal that will forever be in our agenda to keep in our kid’s lives.

How did the partnership with ZOO come about?
We have so much support throughout the skate industry from numerous companies, shops, pro skaters, etc. We held a small A.skate clinic in NYC last September and Z.Y. brought out their friends and team to help out. We are an autism organization that is hands on making a difference in the lives of children through skateboarding. Zoo York believes in us and what we do. I’m really excited that they chose us to partner with and we are very grateful.

Z.Y. Master, Rodney Torres with a friend at the NYC skate clinic.

Brian, you designed the A.skate X ZOO collab deck, how did you get involved with both companies?
BD: I first got involved with Crys from A.skate. I saw what she had done and it blew my mind. Being involved in both of these worlds, I had always thought if somehow skateboarding could be used as a therapy for children with autism. And there it was, Crys had already started it. I was psyched on it and wanted to help out with whatever I could to help promote.

Where did the idea for the board graphic come from?
BD: The idea started from a quote that I always saw on traditional tattoos. “Strength Through Struggle”,
basically your “heart” (i.e. your child, family member, etc.) surrounded by the trouble. That pretty much sums it up for me when it comes to dealing with a family member with autism. Autism creates a physical, emotional, mental, and financial struggle with families it affects. You go to the ends of the earth trying to help your child. Through all that struggle you become a stronger person and keep pushing forward.

Chrys, what are your future plans with A.skate?
We have really good things going on in 2011. Obviously a lot of fund raising has to be done, but somehow it always works out. Other than our traveling to areas during the spring and summer we have plans to form A.skate camps in specific areas to continue our efforts and have locals help us organize them. We have a ton of parents in Southern California who we have helped connect local skaters to meet up at parks and give their kids lessons. It’s really great that parents reach out to us to connect them with their skate community. We are giving proper skate equipment to hundreds of kids through our grant program and hope to be able to continue that this coming year.

For more on the A.skate Foundation, visit their website:

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