ORLANDO, Fla. — Motivated by Eli Delany's devotion to his autistic son Luke, and his passion for promoting autism awareness, the Seminole Bass Anglers became active in the movement as well. "We read the articles in Bassmaster Magazine [see page 52 of July/August 2008 and page 20 of September/October 2009] and talked about it," said Douglas Sauls, president of the central Florida club. "We wanted to help Eli. We wanted to help everybody who's been affected by autism."
While they were motivated to help, members also were nervous about safety issues related to sponsoring a fishing outing for children with autism. Talks with officials at Florida's Centers for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD), however, allayed that anxiety. "CARD gave us confidence," said Sauls, who added that Seminole County also immediately offered support. Response was so positive, in fact, that the club delayed its event from October to April, which is Autism Awareness month.
The original intent was to take five children fishing. But with encouragement from local governments and organizations, members now have their sights set on 8 to 10. "Safety, of course, is paramount," Sauls said. "In each boat, we'll need the driver, a caregiver, the child and maybe a parent. "We'll need to get plenty of volunteers to help with this, and we have to come up with a venue.
We're hopeful of getting a facility on the Butler Chain for a day." Delany, meanwhile, said the spring outing "not only will involve the kids and their families in our wonderful sport but will also help draw attention to the core aspects of my efforts, to raise autism awareness in our fishing communities and give resources, help and an opportunity to bond to parents and friends of children on the spectrum."
Sauls added that the Seminole Bass Anglers long have enjoyed introducing children to fishing, from taking them on the water for a day to staging Bassmaster CastingKids events. "Kids love fishing," he said. "You can see it in their faces, their comments and in the way they interact afterward. It puts them in a place that they haven't been to before, and they love it."
Such outings are especially important for children with autism, said Delany. That's because both children and adults with autism typically show difficulties in verbal and nonverbal communication, social interaction and leisure or play activities. Frequent fishing outings with his father, however, seem to have helped 8-year-old Luke better relate to the world around him. "Luke recently was re-evaluated and found to now be learning at 3/4 the progress of a normally developing child, while last year he was making only 1/2 progress," Delany said.
"This is testament that intensive educational/behavior intervention can make a great difference in the outcome and progress of autistic children. "Most importantly, Luke continues to be the happy, affectionate, eager learner that he always has been. We had a great summer together on and off the water." Learn more about Luke and his condition at www.mylittlebuddysboat.com. To volunteer for the Seminole Bass Anglers event, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org