A family vacation at the beach is a lot of fun. But planning for one can be a bit overwhelming when you have a child – or children – on the autism spectrum.
If you’ve never taken your child before, you may be worried about how he might react – especially if he has sensory issues.
A trip to the beach can be an amazing sensory activity for autistic children. It’s the only place my boys put their feet all the way down. The sand, water, and breeze somehow allow them to relax, and take in their environment.
My family lives at the beach, and I’ve been taking my five year old twins out, at least once a week, since they were two. Both of them are autistic, with very different needs.
So I figured I’d share a little bit of wisdom (insert laugh here) to those of you planning your beach vacation. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Safety First – You Have Plenty of Options!
If your child is an explorer (otherwise known as an eloper), take steps to ensure her safety. Here are a few options you may want to consider:
- Using a tracking device, such as Angel Sense or Project Life Saver
- Calling the local police station ahead of time to let them know you’re coming… Consider faxing them your information and a recent picture of your child.
- Giving the local chapter of The Autism Society a call… They should have the skinny on local EMS policies and phone numbers. They’re usually in direct contact with emergency officials – especially in coastal communities.
- Stickers and bracelets displaying your contact information… Or you can write your info on the inside (or outside) of your child’s shirt. I love my bracelets from Alert Me Bands. They’re chew proof and customizable.
2. Choosing the Right Location
Consider taking your family to a calm beach, without the big waves. This way, your family can enjoy the water without worrying about the rough surf.
My family lives a mile from the oceanfront, but we hardly ever go there. We visit the bay.
You may be thinking, What’s the beach without the waves? or I don’t think it will be fun enough.
My older kids love the calm water. Instead of surfing, they paddle board and skim board. They can also take floats in the water and relax. You can’t do that with big waves.
3. Access to Bathrooms
This one is self-explanatory. It may or may not be important to you. But I thought I’d mention it.
4. Timing is Everything.
Holiday weekends seem like the perfect time for a beach trip. But a crowded beach can be overwhelming, and can present more of a danger for your explorer. Weekdays and “off weekends” are way less crowded.
Also, daytime sun and heat can be overwhelming and downright miserable for just about any kid. My family usually visits the beach in the late afternoon/early evening. There’s less heat, less packing, and way less people.
Consider going to the aquarium or an indoor trampoline park during the heat of the day.
5. Bring Reinforcements.
No, you don’t need to pay a nanny. Just bring anyone who has a helpful attitude and loves the beach. My older children are a tremendous help. But sometimes they just want to let loose.
My best friend’s daughter is 12, and she’s been helping me for years now. Having an extra pair of eyes and hands will give you peace of mind and enable you to relax a bit.
6. Be Flexible – Like Gumby flexible!
Sometimes as parents, we push too hard when we’re on vacation. We’re at the beach, so we’re spending the day there!
But some days, the beach is too windy. Other days, it’s extremely hot. Take time to scope out alternate activities your family can enjoy.
I always (try to) say, Mind over matter. If you’re flexible and positive, you’ll enjoy yourself no matter what challenges may come your way.
There are no rules on vacation! So if your kid has a meltdown at the beach, just head over to the ice cream spot. Problem solved!
7. Some Crucial Items for Your Packing List
Make sure you pack enough shade. Severe heat and the bright sun are overwhelming and can trigger a meltdown, so we always pack a few umbrellas.
If you don’t feel like lugging them around, you can probably rent them right on the beach. There are also delivery services that bring them right out to you.
Baby pools are awesome for water play in the shade. You can pick up a blow-up pool at any beach store.
I’m a huge fan of Puddle-Jumpers. They’re a cross between a life jacket and arm floaties.
No matter how my kids wade (or fall) in the water, their heads seems to stay on top! Of course, they’re not foolproof, but they give me peace of mind.
I would love to hear what tips or tricks you’ve learned while taking your autistic child to the beach!