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Surfside Beach works to become autistic friendly area

Liz Cooper/ Surfside Town Council passes resolution Tuesday night, to dedicate efforts of raising awareness and educating the public of autism. Mayor Doug Samples says town officials are working with businesses on how they can help accommodate families who have autistic children.

On Tuesday night, Surfside Beach Town Council passed a resolution dedicated to educating businesses and the community about autism.

Becky Large presented the idea to council members.

She said this is a dream of hers.

She said now Surfside Beach is the first municipality to call itself an autistic friendly area.

"I have been saying this for probably the last three years that like this area, that it's my goal to make this an autism friendly family travel destination, and I am doing it," said Large, as tears filled up in her eyes. "It's really remarkable."

Large hopes businesses will make adjustments to their establishment to make it more accommodating for families with autistic children.

"If I can reduce those barricades for these people and create awareness and train them, so that they can come here and we've created a judgement free zone at the beach then I've done my job," she said.

Autism has a wide spectrum of how affects people, and different things can trigger their senses.

"There's a lot a sensory issues with vision, lights being too bright, music being too loud," said Diane Owens, with SOS, an autism health care in Myrtle Beach. "You get children that are non-verbal, some that have various sensory issues."

Owens said those sensory issues can trigger meltdowns, and that's why it can be difficult for families to leave their homes.

She said she works with families who run into these situations on a daily basis.

Now that Surfside Beach is dedicating efforts to educate the public and have businesses provide areas for families with autistic children, it's a step towards helping them, she said.

"Just to know that they can go somewhere and be accepted and not have people judge their children and realize that autism is not a disease, it's just a difference," said Owens. "Everybody's different, so it's a huge relief."

Large, who has a highly functioning autistic son, said she knows what that's like.

"It becomes easier to not to leave the house, and you're not going to go to a restaurant if you're afraid your child is going to become overstimulated from the sights, smells and sounds," said Large. "You're not going to go to a movie. You're not going to go grocery shopping. It's dreadful."

Large started the ACE, Autism Community Education, program last July.

She said going to specific communities and working with town and city officials is the next step of her program.

Right now, Large said she has a property management company willing to work with families who have autistic children and provide them with proper accommodations.

"We are going to be working with Project Lifesaver in case people have runners, and we have bracelets so that the children are safe," said Large. "And we are going to be having sensory-friendly movies and other events and BBQ's and some other fun stuff for the town."

Large said they're going to provide different events so children can experience something new or do something they really love.

Large and Owens agree a big part of making a change is to focus on educating the public.

At Tuesday's town council meeting, Large said those people on council and in the public are already learning about welcoming families with autistic children.

"We're a great place for families to come and enjoy a vacation where they feel comfortable that their child will have a good time," said Surfside Beach Mayor Doug Samples.

Because Surfside Beach is known as a family beach, Samples said this is a perfect opportunity to live up to the town's reputation.

"This is one initiative that I think everyone is on board with," he said.

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