By Emilie Mutert
Gathered by the surf at Dunes Beach in Half Moon Bay one recent Friday morning was a group with diverse exposure to the sport of surfing.
Some were children with autism who had never felt the thrill of riding waves, while others were experienced surfing instructors in their teens. And some were parents who said they were relieved to have discovered an activity for their kids, many of whom are chronically overstimulated by their environments and find everyday situations challenging.
The group, which met for classes that are held several times each summer, is led by Joell Dunlap, founder of the Square Peg Foundation in Half Moon Bay. Dunlap, a horse owner an equestrian, initially started Square Peg as a way to pair rescued horses with children. The idea was to provide something different from traditional horse-related therapy programs, she said, by offering a way for children to help horses in need, and not the other way around.
With their work through the organization, which has been operating for 10 years, Dunlap and other volunteers found that children with autism are often drawn to this particular type of horse therapy.
“Autism found us,” said Dunlap, noting that groups that work specifically with young children with autism learned of Square Peg and began recommending it to their patients’ families.
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