In the eyes of children, play time is an essential part of their day. But parents should also have this perspective, especially those who have children with autism. Recreational activities such as sports, dance, swimming, and more have been shown to have incredible benefits for individuals on the spectrum. Not only are they fun and interesting activities for your children to engage in, but they have been shown to be therapeutic and foster a variety of skills such as social skills, motor skills, speech skills, and more. This was the case for Walker Aurand who found solace and was able to grow through the help of hockey.

Aurand, who is now twenty-two years old, was first diagnosed at the age of two with Pervasive Development Disorder. His diagnosis came about when his parents became aware that their son was susceptible to outbursts caused by everyday household noises. According to MI Hockey story, Aurand began therapy at just twenty-seven months and received help from occupational therapists, speech therapists, and even vision therapists. He struggled a lot and shared, “I had difficulty learning to relate sounds to letters in order to read words.”

When the various therapies yielded no results for Aurand, his parents Anne and Steve looked to hockey for help. “We planned on trying it for 15 minutes to see how he’d do and we stayed an hour and he didn’t want to leave the ice,’’ His father said to the Chicago Tribune. “Therapy was expensive so we said, ‘Let’s keep doing this because it’s like therapy and he enjoys it.’”

With skating a success, Aurand found an outlet which not only helped to release his energy and gain freedom, but also a method of learning. To help with his spelling, his parents would tie paper plates with letters onto a hockey net and he would shoot the puck at specific letters to spell out words. “C-A-T, cat,’’ Aurand recalled. “B-U-S. Bus. That’s really how I figured out how to spell. It always made more sense after I did that.’’

Aurand continued playing hockey into high school and began to excel both academically and socially with the help of his parents, brother Brendan, and hockey. Graduating with honors from high school, Aurand continued to defy the odds and attended Davenport University during which he played Division 1 Hockey. He recently graduated with a 3.56 GPA and will be using his final year of eligibility to obtain credits for an advanced degree in Predictive Analytics.

Walker Aurand on the ice at the Pucks for Autism tournament game (via the Chicago Tribune)

With his family by his side, Aurand played at the Glacier Ice Rink in Vernon Hills last weekend for Pucks for Autism, a charity tournament that raised nearly $75,000 for the Special Education District of Lake County. Donned the unofficial ambassador for autism awareness, Aurand interacted with families and gave interviews to many. “I try to do the right thing and I want to make sure I’m giving everyone the right example,’’ said Aurand to the Chicago Tribune. “That’s the most important thing. These people here, I care about what they think. I’ve never hidden the fact I have autism, but I never wanted to be treated differently either. And I have not let it keep me from working to achieve my dreams.’’

From throwing “fifteen tantrums a day” and being told that he would not be able to read past a fourth-grade level, Aurand has come a very long way and has become an inspiration for many. Attributing his confidence and self-esteem to hockey, Aurand refers to the sport as his “saving grace” and pushes for others to not give up on their dreams, just as he didn’t. Aurand ended his story on MI Hockey, which he wrote shortly before starting at Davenport, with a powerful message that he hopes speaks to all: “I may have autism, but it does not have me.”

To learn more about the benefits of recreational therapy, visit www.myautism.org.

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