Autism Odyssea celebrates all on Navarre Beach

Living with autism is tough and vacation can be even harder. These families can face prejudice from those on the outside who don’t understand.

But the folks at the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station want to make family fun in the sun a little easier for all families.

They do this, in part, through their annual Autism Odyssea event. Every year in early May hundreds of children on the autism spectrum, their families, volunteers and community members flooded the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station.

This annual event brings together a community need with the science station’s mission of educating the public on the marine environment and promoting conservation.

Science station director Charlene Mauro (pretty cool lady BTW) said the idea for the event came from watching a neighbor whose 3-year­old child has autism. Mauro and the neighbor shared a vacation to Disney World, during which she saw the challenges that these children and their families face every day from public scrutiny to dealing with a world not designed for these children. Autism OdysSea was designed to meet the unique needs of this group.

The hundreds of participants at this year’s event provided dozens of activities catered toward autism as well as marine education. Many of the volunteers have backgrounds in autism care and therapy so parents need not worry.

Kids on the spectrum and off were able to participate in stand up paddle boarding and kayaking as well as a variety of activities and games on land.

One particularly popular activity had children playing in water beads to find and identify sea critters, a sensation friendly activity.

Many of the booths offer interactions with live animals. The Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge allowed children to pet descented skunks, lizards and a snake. These close up encounters can offer great learning experiences for all kids.

Other activities have children doing crafts like painting starfish and making ocean-themed snack cups.

More than just fun, every year families who come from all over to enjoy the event find support, a sense of togetherness and most importantly a moment of judgement free fun for every member of the family.

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