Wednesday 23 August 2017

Walking on water with our autistic son

He turns away from the sunlight. It's bright... it's soo white. His eyes crease, his nose crinkles and his big brown eyes become little slits on a chubby looking face. He looks down, seeks the shade and seeks shelter from the wind behind me. But his isn't a bleak desert or an isolated part of the 'mid-west', this is simply our son David, at the beach.

I'm not sure David really understands why each summer and in various locations, the family heads for a beach. If you think about it, there isn't really anything specific to 'do' at the beach. Yes, we can build sand castles, play in the water, look in rock pools etc.  But that might not compute for David.

Like many people with autism, David struggles with using his imagination to develop his play.  As his understanding of play in a house is limited to lining up figures, cars and scanning through books or playing with a variety of electronic devices, the beach must be a bit bemusing. Go to the playground and it's obvious..there are swings, slide climbing frames, roundabout... all with an obvious purpose or play. But it's a bit different at the beach and I think David associates it most with eating because we always take snacks or a picnic.

Like many people with autism he also has some sensory issues and this can be difficult because they vary from day to day. The first day we went to the beach he wanted to paddle in the freezing cold water.  He seemed completely oblivious to its temperature and far more concerned about not getting his clothes wet. He moved so gently and followed the waves it was as if he was walking on the water. On the next day he wouldn't take his shoes off and sat on the towel fully clothed with socks and trainers still on. Most days he will find the sun bright and seek solace near me and the snack bag.

Even the sound of the waves can seem deafening to him sometimes. So he retreats and plays on an iPad and enjoys a bag of his favourite Sunbites crisps. The iPad provides him with consistency and he can use it to block out the rest of his environment. He may hold it up to his ear and close his eyes. In many ways the snacks do the same thing, provide him with familiarity, like he's been away from home and is desperately seeking a mummy made (fetched) meal.

Of course, its not always a case of watching our other kids play and sitting nicely with a huddled David. He will often see something that does catch his eye and in an effort to control his emotions and the way he feels he will fixate on it. That may be another child's toy that their parents have brought to the beach. Trust me, I've tried taking a mountain of toys but what's the point when lining toys up on the beach is just annoying because they get covered in sand.

He once chased a kite down the entire length of a very busy beach and then tried to rip the cords from the owners hands. Those pretty sandcastles lovingly built and decorated by a trio of girls has 'flatten me' written all over it for David who wants to keep the status quo - the rest of the sand is flat thank you, why would you change it?

It's not that we don't try to communicate with our six year old son. He can now understand when we sign 'beach' and 'water' - so he knows where we are going and he has got much better at following instructions. He has got better coping too, but not everyday and not with everything. Sometimes it's just too much. One day a family next us to bought those lovely coloured windmills. David was fixated with them. The were very nice but after a short while of standing on all of their stuff and attempting to scratch anyone that came near him, it was time for us to leave.

So when you pass our family and you see a fully dressed child in a beach tent or behind a windbreak playing with an iPad, or three, with their hand into a third pack of crisps, try not to judge. He's just trying to have a fun day at the beach too and he probably is just not necessarily like you.  The next day you may see his mum just standing and watching as her son slowly walks on the water.

Some families who have children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities find the summer break is a hard time - read what they find most difficult about the holidays here.

This post is supporting the Makaton Charity #wetalkmakaton sign of the week 'water'.  


  1. This is a lovely post, very touching #dreamteam@_karendennis

  2. Thank you for sharing this fab post with us on #ablogginggoodtime 🎉 I love how you make autism so accessible to people, you really are raising awareness and understanding. Thank you 🌸

    1. Making autism accessible - I think I like that idea. Thanks as always Catie for your comment.

  3. This has really made me think. I love how your posts always give me an insight into autism that I wouldn't otherwise think about. Thank you, and thank you for linking this to #DreamTeam.

  4. ahh bless him, it must be so hard to do something all together that pleases everyone! #ablogginggoodtime

  5. There is something very relaxing about the sea and water in general, there are so many challenges with other people about and the many sensory issues.
    Well done David for going along x

  6. Awww bless David. I love this post so much. It gives such a detailed insight into our children's worlds. Described by a mother who knows all the ins and outs of how her child's mind and brain works. X

  7. Snacks and water have always meant such a lot to our girl too! She loves the beach, can dig for hours - but only if there is water to play with, and preferably no other people anywhere near... everything' a challenge but sometimes we manage to have fun ;) #BAPSLinky

  8. Crisps (Walkers) and drinks are used daily here. If it works for them, let it be. As you know I am a beach addict and thankfully my kids have the same relationship. It took my eldest longer to get there - our first trip to the beach was a nightmare and I cried for days because I saw a future without trips to the beach. However, 13 years on, all three love going to the beach. They prefer sandy beaches now (when they were younger it had to be a stony beach) and only one of them now keeps his shoes on. #BAPSLinky

  9. Lovely post... Sand is a huge favourite for our son as he could play for hours on end in his own world with us on the sidelines ... #BAPSlinky


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