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SENSORY PLUNGE IN JAMAICA
 
(2023 - Winter Issue)

Writer: LISA KADANE



In the calm water off Seven Mile Beach, Jamaica, my teenage son kicks to keep up with a school of fish. Bennett stretches his arm out to try and touch the French grunts, but instead the yellow-and-white-striped fish dart toward prongs of elkhorn coral.

Soon after, our snorkel guide at Beaches Negril points out a rusty cannon and anchor lying among coral on the seabed. Back when pirates were fighting for control of the island, a ship ran into the reef and sank.

Between these pirate props and tropical fish, it’s like swimming in an aquarium. Bennett looks down intently through his mask at the sea fans and parrotfish, never taking his head out of the water.

WHEN YOU’RE NEURODIVERSE, LEARNING NEW SKILLS CAN BE HARD

For most people, snorkelling is fairly simple: put on a snorkel mask and breathe through a tube. But Bennett has autism, and learning to coordinate his breathing while swimming in deep water has been a challenge.

A water baby, Bennett has always loved swimming and visiting aquariums, so we introduced him to a mask and snorkel a couple of summers ago in a pool. He loved it.

AN AUTISM-CERTIFIED RESORT MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE

But on a past trip, we found that despite his love of swimming, the unfamiliar deep water with people splashing nearby and real live fish below made him panic. Now, we approached this trip with a different strategy. For starters, Beaches Negril is autism certified. The kids camp and water sports staff have been trained to recognize the condition and work with guests on the spectrum. By the time we go snorkelling, Bennett has already been out sailing and kayaking, and everyone knows him by name.

For another, we’re easing Bennett into deeper water. The water sports manager suggests we try baby steps by starting in the pool, then snorkelling in the shallow water by the beach, before joining a trip to the reef.

The day of the snorkel trip, he’s ready. Experienced staff modify Bennett’s life jacket to comfortably prop him up while he kicks along. He’s now like an angelfish in water, completely at ease swimming with his gilled friends.

What might be just another vacation day for a typical family is a huge win for us. Snorkelling not only unlocks an undersea realm for Bennett, it opens up a world of possibilities for our family.

LESSON LEARNED

Our son’s aquatic success in a supported environment demonstrates that patience and perseverance pay off when teaching him a new skill, and we’re thrilled the resort could provide a safe space to nudge Bennett out of his comfort zone. A dip in the Caribbean for kids with special needs doesn’t have to be unattainable, especially with the growth in autism-certified destinations. There’s a sea world for all of us to see!

 
 
 
 
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