By Robert Parish
Jonathan Chase is an autism advocate, professional musician, TEDx presenter, board member of the Autism Society of Oregon and mentor to ASD parents and children. Obviously, the 31-year-old Portland resident has a wide range of diverse talents and special interests.
One of his interests, by any standard, is very special.
Several times a year, Jonathan, who was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome when he was 14, organizes playful interactive educational events called “Boffer Workshops.”
That’s not a typo. The word is “Boffer.”
So, what’s a “Boffer Workshop?” Jonathan’s definition: “Light contact battles with foam armaments designed to challenge individuals ages 10-30+ in a fun, safe collaborative environment.”
In other words, live-action, non-life-threatening role-playing.
Boffer armaments are handmade replicas of medieval swords, shields and hammers—think Mel Gibson’s personal hand-held arsenal in the movie Braveheart. Unlike the real thing, boffer weapons do not harm or maim. In fact, when one is struck by a boffer sword, laughter often follows the blow.
“It was a hobby I had as a teenager,” Jonathan recalls. “My best friend John and I would build these things with our friends and have sword fights. When I started working in the autism community with teens and young adults through my mentoring business, I was looking for different activities.”
One day, while meeting with a client, Jonathan decided to bring out one of his old foam swords for inspection and discussion. His client’s interest was strong, and the result was spectacular.
Before long, the teenager who had trouble connecting with people he didn’t know, was running around in a field swinging a sword. “It lit a spark,” Jonathan says.
From there, Jonathan started organizing and running group classes outdoors around Portland in the summertime. The group is actively looking for a donated space to hold workshops indoors during the fall and winter months.
“The weapons are silly. They’re bright colored foam and tape and cloth swords, shields and axes,” Jonathan says. “At the most basic level, it’s fun. It’s a physical activity for people who are not physical and athletic. Everybody gets to win, and everybody loses. On a deeper level, I see it as a window I can use it to open up and teach things that are hard to teach without a good context.”
Jonathan notes that his boffer workshops aren’t all fun and games. Boffering teaches receptive language, group strategy, leadership and spatial awareness.
“It’s a fun group activity. But, on a deeper level, I can use it to teach critical skills to the population that needs it the most. In a way, that’s fun.”
For more information, or if you have a indoor space to donate, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robert Parish is an autism activist and filmmaker who lives in Portland. He is a regular content contributor to Portland Radio Project.