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Autistic teen connects with snowboarding

February 05, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

Editor's note: The Herald-Mail is tracking Nick's progress in Two Top Mountain Adaptive Sports Foundation's adaptive skiing program.

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - It was a guy thing.

Wendy Johnston approached her son Thursday morning at Whitetail Resort and asked whether he'd like her to join him. Nick Moore, 17, had just come down a hill with his 20-year-old instructor.

"Not yet," he said, after thinking for a moment.

Johnston said she was happy that her autistic teenager had developed a connection with a peer. When she enrolled him in the adaptive skiing program, she wondered whether he'd trust the instructors enough to leave her behind.

Yet, Nick has made great strides in just four lessons. Those not only include newly learned snowboarding tricks, but also the ability to work independently and make decisions like which slope he prefers.

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"He did great. From last week to this week, it seemed like the improvement was really good," instructor Matt Guenter said.

Guenter, who has been snowboarding for six years, volunteered for Two Top Mountain Adaptive Sports Foundation in an effort to build his résumé. Nick's lesson provided Guenter his first opportunity to work with someone who has special needs.

Communication proved to be the biggest challenge, Guenter said.

I'm "just trying to explain to him so that he can understand what I'm saying and not confuse him," he said, adding that he quickly realized that Nick responded better to visual clues.

The pair talked about favorite foods, video games and unicycling when riding the chairlift.

"On the whole ride up, he was laughing and having a good time," Guenter said.

After his lesson, Nick worked with his mother to answer a series of written prompts about his experiences. The pair from Warrenton, Va., often communicate through writing to take advantage of the way he better focuses on the written word.

Bill Dietrich formed the nonprofit organization Two Top Mountain Adaptive Sports Foundation in 2007 to better serve the physically and mentally disabled. He currently has 20 active instructors and 40 students participating in winter sports.

For more information, call 717-328-9400, ext. 3582 or e-mail WTadaptive@skiwhitetail.com.

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