A new joint initiative between Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) and Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) has led to a summer of fun in the sun for a number of the nation’s children living with Autism and other disability.
With the hope of making beaches and Surf Life Saving Clubs across the nation more inclusive for people with disability, the Inclusive Beaches project was introduced and piloted within 13 Clubs in New South Wales and Queensland as part of the partnership.
The program forms part of Aspect’s work towards creating an autism friendly Australia, with
Aspect Chief Executive Officer Adrian Ford saying he believes all Australians should have the opportunity to access and be included in their community in a safe and meaningful way.
“People on the autism spectrum can often be excluded from beach activities due to difficulties with communication, specifically, challenges with understanding water safety, knowing the risks and how to seek assistance,” he explains.
“We know that some families avoid the beach completely because they believe they would not be able to keep their family member safe and may not be able to access appropriate support if required.”
Surf Life Saving Australia Chief Executive Melissa King says the project was developed as part of SLSA’s commitment to inclusiveness and diversity, adding that it will provide specialist training, support and resources for people in the surf lifesaving community with a disability.
“We firmly believe in diversity as an organisation and this project highlights our commitment to enabling all members of the community to participate in Surf Life Saving,” she explains.
“The Inclusive Beaches project is providing education and resources for Age Managers on the Nippers Program through to our surf lifesavers on patrol to help people with a disability, including those on the autism spectrum, and their families, confidently enjoy the sensory experience that the ocean offers.”
She says participating clubs worked with Aspect to increase their knowledge of the autism spectrum and develop inclusive appropriate resources and practices for their community to help those on the spectrum enjoy the benefits of surf lifesaving.
One of the 13 clubs that participated in the pilot of the program was Elouera SLSC in New South Wales, who introduced its first ever inclusive Nippers program and welcomed ten new families into their community.
Libby O’Sullivan from Elouera SLSC says their Yellow Fins Nippers Group offers support to children on the autism spectrum, and with other disabilities, to learn important lifesaving skills.
“It’s something we have wanted to do for a while, so it was brilliant to see the smiles on children’s faces as they took part in beach activities like sprints and relays,” she says.
“The Yellow Dins Nippers takes place alongside all other mainstream Nippers groups on the beach.
“We run all the usual Nipper activities, with some slight adjustments, so that everyone can have a go.
“We also have lots of volunteers and parent helpers, and the whole group has a relaxed and very positive attitude.”
The project, funded by the Information, Linkages and Capacity Building (ILC) National Readiness Grant, was rolled out across:
- North Steyne SLSC
- Elouera SLSC
- The Lakes SLSC
- Caves Beach SLSC
- Southport SLSC
- Sussex Inlet SLSC
- Nambucca Heads SLSC
- Towradgi SLSC
- Copacabana SLSC
- Lennox Head-Alstonville SLSC
- Ballina Lighthouse and Lismore SLSC
- Sarina SLSC
- Cairns Palm Cove SLSC