The beach is calling but not everyone will be happy to get there. Families with autism face challenges at the beach, especially if it’s a first visit!
The beach can be a very daunting place for a person with elevated sensitivities to their environment. At the beach, they will be greeted by beautiful blue skies, sunshine, wind and sand which most people love, but these can also be the very things that make a beach visit uncomfortable for a person with autism. Here are a few steps you can take to help your family member adjust.
Find beach access close to the shore
If you are staying at a beach side hotel, you can easily walk to the shore. If you are driving in for the day, parking can be found in the north part of Myrtle Beach (40th Ave N. Surf area) for $15 for the day. Paid parking is also available in Surfside Beach and free parking is available in Garden City. Pawleys Island also has free parking and there is more of a hike to reach the waterline, if that is a factor. Landing in the center of Myrtle Beach may be a preference, however you must pay for parking and walk at least a city block to reach the shore. You may also have to move through crowds in the summer months with all of your gear. Thus far, my family has had the best success keeping south or north of central Myrtle Beach where the beaches are quieter. A favorite northerly family beach is Gardens by the Sea, 5506 North Ocean Blvd, which has a playground and beach access but parking is very limited.
Go early or late in the day
I find the sweetest time to be at the beach is when the sun is less hot and the crowds are lighter. At these times you can also use a lot less sunblock which your child may refuse to use. Other alternatives to sunblock are available at most beach stores such as Eagles Beachwear, Bargain Beachwear or Tsunami Surf Shop which carry umbrellas, full body suits, hats and sunglasses. Use the hottest part of the day for resting or ice cream at Sugar Life Ice Cream and Candy Bar or another activity in an air conditioned space such as Big Air Trampoline Park to burn off some energy.
Go during low tide
Low tide is a magical time at the beach. Small, shallow pools of water appear making private pools with no waves. You can also find small creatures in these pools such as little fish, hermit crabs and bivalves.
Be prepared for things that might trigger a meltdown
Sand in shorts, bright sun, wind, blowing sand and crashing waves can all be triggers. It might all just be too much. If this is the case, an evening walk instead of swimming may be a better plan. In any case, be sure to bring chairs, towels, sand toys, snacks and any other devices that help your person stay happy. Binoculars are a fun tool to bring along to watch birds, boats, dolphins, and surfers.
Try some Adventure
If you have an adventure seeker in your group, check out Express Watersports. They offer banana boat rides out of Murrells Inlet and you can decide how fast or slow you go on this sometimes bumby and thrilling ride. This group also offers kayaking, paddle boarding and jet skiing. Our personal family favorite is kayaking through the tidal marsh where we can get up close to the shorebirds and travel at our own speed with a knowledgeable guide. We usually put our son in a double kayak so that he can rest his hands when needed.
Locate beach access with bathrooms
Not all access points have public bathrooms but you can find them online before you choose your location.
Staying safe is a priority
The beach is a beautiful place, but it is an ecosystem that has a current, weather and inhabitants. There are a few things to remember to stay safe while at the beach. First, avoid swimming near or under the piers. The shade might be tempting but the hooks from the fishing lines can cause a bad injury and wildlife can hang around the piers. Watch for thunderstorms that roll in on a hot afternoon too.
Also, be wary of the drainage pipes and canals sending water across the beaches into the ocean. They are full of runoff water that shouldn't be played in. Surfside Beach and the beach in the north part of Myrtle Beach have them and they are easy to see.
And finally, be sure to educate your family about riptides. There are signs at the entrance to most beaches explaining them and how to get out of them. You will also find a list of rules for pets, beach equipment and hours of use. Please note that shade devices, such as umbrellas, are regulated and each beach has its own rules.
This can seem daunting but once you’ve set up your little piece of beachy heaven, you can relax and enjoy the sights and sounds and the soothing nature of the ocean. Be safe and have fun!