Going to the beach can seem like a daunting task when going with the whole family. When you have a child with special needs, it may seem even more challenging to ensure their safety as well as helping the family have a fun and relaxing day in the sun. There are many things that can be done to help make the beach experience with the family more safe, and therefore more enjoyable for everyone. Here are some tips that you may be able to practice, use or incorporate into your day, to help you and your family spend more stress-free time at the beach! (Not all tips may apply to your family and/or child’s needs, and this list is not exhaustive, but hopefully you find it helpful!)
• Choose a beach that has all the amenities your family is going to need (e.g., one that has lifeguards, one that has bathrooms and food, one with a playground nearby or grassy area to play, one at a pond or lake instead of the beach if the waves and water safety is a major concern).
• When at the beach, set up your gear near a lifeguard stand. Introduce your child with special needs to the lifeguard and inform the lifeguard about your child’s particular needs (for example, may wander off, may go in the water deeper than they should, etc.). This will help have an extra set of eyes on your child.
• Go at low tide when there is more room at the beach so you do not have to be so close to other people around you.
• Go with a group so there are extra adults and helping hands.
• Talk to all of you children about being helpers for your child with special needs and what they can do to help while at the beach. Review safety rules with them and what they need to do in an emergency. You can also give them jobs (and maybe even incentives for doing those jobs) when in the community.
• Practice; do “dry runs” and practice going to the beach in small doses to work on transitions and safety skills. It may help to practice with just your child with special needs so that you can focus all of your attention on them — and it may help you know what to expect before going with the whole family which may lead to more distractions.
• Enroll your child in swim lessons so they know how to swim if they go in the water. Practice swimming and safety skills at a pool or the YMCA prior to going to the beach.
• Bring fun and reinforcing toys with you to help entertain your child while you are at the beach if they become bored or need more structure and things to do. Also, pack a picnic and some snacks or lunch for everyone.
• Create a social story to review with your child that discusses what to expect at the beach, safety rules, and reinforcement for following the rules and being safe at the beach.
• If your child is a visual learner, use pictures or a visual schedule to let them know what to expect and to help prepare them for transitions (for example, a first/then visual is helpful to show them “First car ride, then the beach” and when leaving the beach, “First beach, then car ride – or better yet, ice cream!”)
• Also to help with transitions, especially if the beach is a very preferred activity for your child, have a reinforcing activity that comes after the beach. For example, “First beach, then ice cream!” This may help make the transition less upsetting to the child and may help motivate them to leave such a fun place.
• Use transitional objects that the child can hold or play with for comfort when transitioning to or from the beach. (For example, if they have a favorite toy or blanket.)
• Make sure your child can tolerate sand. Some children do not like touching sand or even having it on their feet. Allow them to play with sand to get used to the texture prior to going to the beach.
And last but not least, make sure your child can tolerate and wear a life jacket if there is a fear of them running into the water and not being able to swim. You may want to practice wearing the life jacket both in and out of water prior to going to the beach. If they do not like wearing one, practice for small amounts of time and gradually increase how long they need to wear it for.
We hope these tips can help you and your family enjoy some fun at the beach this summer!
To learn more about Northeast Arc’s Autism ABA Services, call 978-624-2352 or email us.