Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Trip to the beach - sensory nightmare!!

Going to the beach conjures up an image of laughing children having fun paddling in the sea, building sandcastles, enjoying ice cream, hunting for special pebbles and shells etc.  For our youngest son it is a sensory nightmare.   

We visited Broadstairs last week and walking to the beach we found a shop that sold buckets and spades and told our 3 kids to choose one each to use on the beach. This started the first of many meltdowns of the day. Our youngest son kept shouting that the spades weren't the right shape. They looked normal seaside spade shapes to us and we couldn't work out what he was referring to. After a session of feet stamping inside the shop we bought them all a bucket and spade.  Before we reached the beach, we had to pass an ice-cream shop.  I had made the mistake earlier saying that we would have ice-cream at the beach and our 2 ASD children took me to my word and wanted it there and then. They are very literal and weren't prepared to wait.  As we walked down the steps onto the beach the kids noticed the swooping sea gulls and the screaming began. They were scared they would snatch their ice-creams.  I made another error and said seagulls don’t like ice-cream, they prefer chips instead.  This had knock on effect later in the day as our daughter and youngest son refused to have fish and chips on the sea front as I had said seagulls like chips! Literal interpretation can be the bane of our lives.  

When our youngest son’s foot touched the sand, he refused to move until he had emptied the sand from his crocs. He didn't understand that as soon as he did this they would then be filled with sand again. Our daughter used to be the same when younger but has adapted as she's got older. Whilst this was going on his ice cream was melting in the sun and dripping onto his hands which were now covered in sand. It was quickly becoming a sticky mess which he didn't like the feel of on his skin. Whilst my husband and older kids found a place on the sand to sit, I took our youngest son to the public toilets to wash his hands. Someone was using the hand dryer when we walked in and he hates the noise so I had to cover his ears whilst he washed his hands. Then we walked back to the steps to the beach - he stopped and shook his head to indicate he wasn't going to walk on the sand again. I carried him across the sand and placed him on our beach mats. He didn't stray off the mat for the next hour or so and played with his bucket and spade whilst seated on the mat. He kept whispering to us that people were looking at him - they weren't but as the beach was busy he was uncomfortable being in such close proximity to others. Whilst he was digging he kept saying this isn't the same sand as we have at school and the spade is different to the one in his class. It then dawned on me that this is what he had meant earlier when he had been having a tantrum over the shape of the spade in the shop - in his eyes it needed to be exactly the same one as he uses at school - he likes the familiarity and routine which had been broken by coming to sand on a beach rather than using a sandpit at school. ASD children can find it a real challenge to be somewhere unfamiliar.

Although our daughter enjoyed being on the beach she was perplexed as we had said in the morning we were going to visit a particular beach but had ended up somewhere different as there had been no parking at the first location. We should know by now that it’s not wise to be too specific with our instructions for the day but it’s easy to forget.

The sensory impact of being on the beach makes days out hard work but it’s not something we should avoid.  Although if I'm honest we don't do them as often as we should as its stressful for everyone involved.

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