Finding an activity for someone with autism can be challenging, but an archery club in Oshawa, Archery 2 You, is trying to address that issue with a program designed for people with special needs.
The feeling of drawing the arrow back and releasing it gives 20-year-old Elliot Smith a feeling of complete elation.
“Archery helps me build self confidence, it’s helped me learn about discipline,” said Smith, who was diagnosed with autism when he was 18 months old.
Though he plays some team sports, his mother, Debbie, wanted him to find something that wasn’t as competitive and which he could do independently.
“He gets ready an hour before he even has to come to class,” Debbie said. “He’s made friendships here so the people that he plays with, he actually sees outside of class now.”
“This is like fun, a fun time. No matter if you’re a kid or teenager or an adult with a disability, it’s going to help anybody,” Elliot added.
The archery program Elliot participates in was designed specifically for people on the autism spectrum.
“Archery’s a solitary sport; there’s repitition involved and it increases mental focus,” said Robert Studer, owner of Archery 2 You and an archery instructor.
Since Struder and his wife came up with the program two and a half years ago, it’s since expanded to incorpoate close to 20 budding hawkeyes.
“We go from step to step to step,” said Struder. “Also we have foot mats that they use to stand on, so it’s all the visual cues that they’re able to relate to.”
Sean MacLean fires off his arrows by himself, but that wasn’t always the case for the 35-year-old.
“When he started, he was complete hand-over-hand assistance with me,” said Sean’s mother, Kelly.
“I had to stand behind him and pull his arms back and put his face towards the target so that he could see it and help him pull the string back.”
And about a year later, he was completely independent.
“He’s getting bull’s-eyes all over the place… it’s amazing,” said MacLean.
The program is the first of its kind in Canada, but Studer has a bigger target in his sights.
He says he wants to grow the program across the country and give others living with autism a safe outlet to take part in something that will help them hit bullseyes in the sport — and the rest of their lives.