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Aiming for the bullseye

Autism, archery a winning combo

Jasmine, 16, Elliot, 19 and Sean, 30, prepare to aim at their targets during their weekly archery class at Archery 2 You in Oshawa. Both Elliot and Sean’s mothers say being involved with the program has helped their sons tremendously. (Photo by Dave Flaherty)

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

Every Saturday morning, groups of autistic children, teens and young adults excitedly arrive at Archery 2 You in Oshawa.

Archery 2 You has been in the city for about two years now, located at 50 Celina Street.

Run by Robert and Lisa Studer, the business started out as a mobile-only enterprise, but grew to the point where they wanted a physical location.

The Studers offer lessons for both individuals and groups, and also offers fun for birthday parties and bachelor/bachlorette parties.

But these Saturday morning groups offer a different spin on the sport.

Lisa also works with autistic children and the Studers decided they wanted to combine that with their other passion: archery.

They offer two groups, one for children, and one for teens and young adults.

Lisa told The Express they have students in the program ranging from ages eight to 30.

At this lesson, present are Sean Robins, 30, Elliot Smith, 19, and Jasmine Lauder, 16.

She notes they also maintain at least two-to-one instructor to student ratio in the autism program.

Participants originally sign up for four weeks, but Lisa points out most of their students continue on “indefinitely.”

Skill levels differ on the individual, but she says the main focus is to provide a creative outlet.

“It helps with focus and self-confidence,” Lisa tells The Express.

Sean’s mother Kelly MacLean says the archery course has helped her son immensely.

She noted when he began she had to physically help him to hold the bow properly. But as time went on, he began to open up.

“His self esteem has increased tremendously, and he’s totally independent,” MacLean said.

While Sean has a number of different activities, his mother says archery is his favourite.

“He gets himself up and ready to go. He was ready in 30 minutes today, and he usually takes about two hours. He really enjoys it.”

Elliot’s mother Debbie says her son has also really taken to archery.

“It’s really helped his focus, coordination and concentration,” she said. “All of them have progressed in different ways.”

Robert said archery is a sport that anyone can excel at.

“It doesn’t matter your age. We have people up to 75 years old – nobody is excluded,” he explains.

He did note that it is “not a big sport in Ontario,” so options can sometimes be limited.

To him, it’s been amazing to see the progress made by his students.

He says some people may question if archery is a safe activity for autistic people, but he notes it’s a very safe sport.

As for this type of program, Robert is “pretty positive” they are the only ones who have it in the province.

Archery is not currently sanctioned by the Special Olympics, although Robert says this may change in the future.

MacLean said any exposure for the sport “would be incredible.”

“These guys deserve a chance to shine as much as anyone,” she said.