The Surfers for Autism have a very special mission.

"We are a nonprofit dedicated to introducing the sport and lifestyle of surfing to children with autism," says Dave Rossman, publicist for the organization. "It works. We've seen the results."

Surfers for Autism's third annual Tybee Beach Festival will be Sept. 7. At the event, 200 children and young adults with autism and related special abilities will spend the day being pushed into waves by expert instructors.

The result is instant transformation.

"We have seen children who are nonverbal, who don't like to be touched, bear-hug an instructor," Rossman says.

"Parents say, 'I've never seen my child this calm.' They actually communicate. And the transformation lasts for weeks, and even months."

The SFA website and Facebook page contain testimonials from parents.

"You will see statements, 'This has changed my life forever,'" he says.

"This is our third event on Tybee," he says. "We were founded in December 2007 and hosted the first event in May 2008."

At the time, there were other organizations doing similar work.

"We do it much differently," Rossman says.

"There is a marginal model out there. There is a long history of horseback therapy and different water therapies. We modeled ours after existing research out there."

The public is welcome and there are other events the public can participate in.

"It depends on each city, but there is usually a bounce house and games," Rossman says. "A lot of times, the city police or fire department will bring out vehicles and let the children see them. There are concerts, raffles and a full-on party.

"It's always open to the public," he says. "If you like the beach, dancing and meeting great people, it's for you."

At least 300 to 400 volunteers are required to put on the event.

"Our president, Don Ryan, spends weeks or sometimes even months in a host community, going to restaurants and other places to recruit volunteers," Rossman says.

"The support we receive in Tybee is special," he says. "Our first year there, the mayor and different city officials came out and helped us set up. They were setting up tents and providing hospitality."

Rossman was a newspaper journalist when he learned about Surfers for Autism.

"I surf with Don Ryan," he says.

"He was always asking me to come, and finally I gave in and went to the second event ever. I was pretty much hooked. He called me a few days later and asked me to come on board.

"Sometimes people see Surfers for Autism and think, 'I don't have child with autism, so I can't participate,'" Rossman says. "But believe me, this is something for everybody."


What: Surfers for Autism's third annual Tybee Beach Festival

When: 9 a.m. Sept. 7

Where: Tybee Pier

Cost: Free