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Adaptive Skiing, Autism Skiing for Kids in Lake Tahoe

Introducing a Child on the Autism Spectrum to Skiing

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I grew up skiing the mountainous slopes of North Lake Tahoe. My parents first plunked me on a pair of skis when I was 6 years-old. There’s nothing like the sound of waxed skis cutting through fresh powder and the feeling of clean cool mountain air hitting your face as you tackle a challenging run. Not long ago, I wondered if my younger child would ever experience the thrill of skiing. My son is on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum.

Autism spectrum disorders are a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. Such cases have been on the rise in the U.S. for some time. As a result, many ski resorts are offering tailored programs introducing kids on the autism spectrum to skiing. Northstar California and Squaw Valley are among these forward-thinking ski resorts. My son has participated in lessons at both resorts using an approach called Adaptive Skiing.

What is Adaptive Skiing?

Originally developed for disabled World War II veterans, Adaptive Skiing has been shown to have therapeutic benefits for disabled and special needs skiers of all ages and abilities. Adaptive Skiing programs are tailored to the individual. While one skier may require special equipment to enjoy the sport, another, like my son, might depend on behavioral supports.

How Adaptive Skiing Can Help Kids with Autism

Autism often demonstrates itself in restrictive and repetitive behaviors, as it does in my son. The instructors at Northstar and Squaw Valley shaped my son’s lessons around his behavior patterns. Utilizing adaptive behavior methods, each instructor built lessons around my son’s obsessions and incorporated them into the lessons.

When his obsession centered on the movie Wreck-It Ralph, he spent his lesson doing “Fix-It Felix Fries” (straight ski) and “The Wreck-It Ralph Rocket” (otherwise known as the snow plow). The ski instructor utilized a pole and a hula hoop, calling them candy from Wreck-It Ralph’s Sugar Rush video game, to keep my son from skiing too far away and descending too fast. During another lesson, if singing kept things on track then my son and the instructor sang together.

Autism therapists often use this type of cognitive re-framing in order to change a negative behavior into something that is useful. Obsessive behaviors quite often get in the way of my son’s learning, so by re-framing the behavior, the instructors enhanced his experience. There are no words to describe the joy I felt while watching my son’s accomplishments unfold and seeing the look of pride on my little boy’s face.

Where to Find Adaptive Skiing in North Lake Tahoe

Adaptive private lessons at Northstar and Squaw Valley are priced at a discounted rate compared to their standard private lessons. Northstar also sells adaptive ski passes for adults and children. It is always a good idea to be prepared to provide documentation showing a diagnosis when setting up lessons, and be sure to call in advance to book these popular programs as they do fill up quickly.

Hampton Inn & Suites Tahoe-Truckee is just a short drive from both resorts.

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Lead photo courtesy of Squaw Valley Ski Resort.

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Kristine lives in Mountain View, California, where she is the mother of a gifted girl athlete and a special needs charmer. Like almost everything in her house,…

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