Youngsters with autism excel at Pines skating event

Youngsters with autism excel at Pines skating event

March 17, 2012

By Chris Guanche, Forum Publishing Group

Cameron Torres has come a long way with his efforts at the Pines Ice Arena.

Cameron, 12, is one of several autistic skaters working with Coach Kris Grobins, a former competitive skater who teaches at the South Florida Autism Charter School in Miami-Dade. Parents sign their children up for Grobins’ skating courses as a form of therapy, but the work doesn’t come without its share of challenges. Almost all of them start out with no ice skating experience.

“Some days they’re off, and they have their behaviors and are unable to focus,” Grobins said.

Grobins said those behaviors manifest in different ways with each child. Some are unaware of skating etiquette and will smack into other skaters, while others lack adequate social skills and don’t know what to say in certain situations. Others may act out or want to quit skating.

“In school it’s more contained, but out here you’re in an open area,” she said.

But Grobins worked with Cameron and two other students to put those issues aside as they competed in the U.S. Figure Skating 2012 South Florida Basic Skills Series at the Pembroke Pines facility. In the competition, a panel of judges examined skaters as they demonstrated their skills and graded them on elements, technique and choreography.

Grobins had her students compete in a special solo section following four months of training. One of Grobins’ students, a young girl with sensory issues, had an aversion to loud sounds and kept her fingers stuck in her ears for some of her performance. Cameron completed his routine on his own, only taking a quick fall on his way out of the rink.

Cameron’s mother, Ann Mathews, said he was diagnosed at age 3.

“He didn’t talk, and when he did, he repeated phrases from TV shows and movies,” said Mathews, of Pembroke Pines.

Mathews said some of Cameron’s behaviors, including lining up his toys, initially seemed cute, but she noticed that he wasn’t developing in the same manner as his brother Sebastian, now 15. The first doctor to examine Cameron said he had a language disorder. Speech therapy and several additional diagnoses followed before doctors determined he had autism.

Mathews said ice skating has had a positive impact on Cameron.

“He’s less likely to give up,” she said. “It’s a sport he can excel at.”

By the end of the competition, he walked away with a first-place ribbon for his category. Grobins said she wants her students to participate in more competitions in the future, with her goal being for them to blend in with other skaters.

“It’s great for them to work toward something,” she said. “It gives them such confidence.”

Chris Guanche can be reached at

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