The love of the sea is a powerful thing. For a lifelong sailor, like local father Scott Herman, nothing compares to sharing that love of the water with your children. Herman’s oldest son, Daniel, is autistic, and finding a sailing camp that could accommodate his needs was nearly impossible, so Herman decided to take matters into his own hands.
Herman partnered with Charleston Community Sailing to found the state’s first autism sailing program. Spectrum Sailing is a free, three-day sailing camp where autistic children ages 10 to 17 learn the basics of sailing — tying knots, steering, trimming the sails and hitting the high seas — in a calm, judgment-free environment. Ecological components about local wildlife and water safety lessons are tied into the curriculum, as well.
In the first few years, the program was a tremendous success. It quickly became clear that the desire for families with autistic children to participate in something other than the average miracle league baseball was huge.
“This year, the growth and the response have been so positive. We’re actually in eight cities. We’ll give over 160 kids the opportunity to sail with us for free,” Herman said. “We’re never going run out of kids that want to learn how to sail.”
These types of camps can be invaluable in boosting self-esteem and confidence in autistic children. Stevielyn Winfield and her son, Greyson, participated in the camp last year. Winfield said her son has severe separation anxiety and won’t go anywhere without her, even school.
For the first two days of camp, Winfield stayed on the boat with Greyson. But on the final day of the camp, there was no room for an extra passenger. After some convincing from the instructors, he was ready to do it on his own.
“It was emotional,” Winfield said. “They just got down on his level and talked to him and encouraged him and told him that he can do it without me. And he did. He was so proud of himself to go out on that sailboat without his mom.”
It was a big win for her son, one that she credits to Herman and the camp instructors, who are trained to teach kids with different learning styles. The experience is tailored to neurodivergent campers; lessons are brought to the campers in a way that allows them to be fully immersed in learning how to sail.
“We’ve had kids that have a real struggle controlling themselves in a classroom and the minute we leave the dock, they’re absolutely at peace,” Herman said. “We really try to keep that calmness at the forefront when they’re on the boat. No one’s yelling. There’s no screaming. It’s very focused on sailing the boat and letting them really enjoy that connection with the water and the wind,” Herman said.
Spectrum Sailing officially became a nonprofit organization in 2022. Because of the high demand for the camp, campers are chosen in a lottery system to participate. Spectrum Sailing has several camps scheduled for the summertime, all around the country.
Next up is a camp in New Orleans, Louisiana in April. A camp for the Charleston area is set for October. For more information, or to register for the camp, visit www.spectrumsailing.org.