Lei Beckley-Wagner is no ordinary 9-year-old boy. He loves fishing, archery and the great outdoors. He is passionate about helping others and making the world a better place. However, unlike his peers, Lei was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
Autism and autism spectrum disorders are characterized by difficulties in social interactions, verbal and non-verbal communication skills and sensory sensitivities. Intellectual disabilities and difficulties with fine or gross motor skills are often present in varying degrees. Many stereotypes revolve around children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, most of which focus on various inabilities and an individual’s lack of skills.
Rather than focusing on the things he can’t do, Lei focuses his time and energy on perfecting his archery and fishing skills while encouraging others to get involved in outdoor activities. With the support of Autism Speaks and his grandparents, PaPa and Ahma, Lei created his own website and Twitter account with the ultimate mission to bring awareness to autism spectrum disorders and push through typical stereotypes and barriers.
Team Lei, comprised of Lei and his grandparents, is privately funded and operates entirely from private funds and donations made by archery, fishing and other outdoor sporting companies that support Lei and his mission – to encourage other children with autism spectrum disorders to conquer stereotypes by excelling in outdoor activities and to “never give up.”
While typical team sports such as soccer and basketball are often too complex and physical for kids with autism, involvement in archery, fishing and other outdoor sports helps to build confidence, encourage social interaction, and develop skills in problem solving and team work in a safe, non-threatening environment.
Wilderness activities provide the stability of routine that children with autism need since the rules and method are consistent. Additionally, they are highly adaptive, allowing for unlimited modifications to meet every child’s specific needs. Since small individual achievements and goals, rather than competitive winning or losing, measure success, kids with autism spectrum disorders are free to explore and excel at their own pace without fear of failure.