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The Palm Beaches, Florida: An Autism-Friendly Summer Destination

The Palm Beaches: An Autism-Friendly Summer Destination

Fly to The Palm Beaches and Discover the Most Autism-Friendly Beaches for Families with Special Needs

By: Candi Spitz

Summer is right around the corner and many families are busy making vacation plans. For Special Needs Families, this planning comes with a lot of uncertainty and challenges. Palm Beach County is dedicated to becoming a first-rate vacation destination for accessible and special needs travel, so if you are looking to make Palm Beach your travel destination this summer, here are some travel tips to put your mind at ease as you plan your trip to paradise.

Air Travel: Palm Beach International Airport

Palm Beach International Airport is our absolute most favorite airport to fly in/out of when we travel for many reasons. Obviously, the most important feature for us is that they are accommodating to the special needs of all passengers – with a strong emphasis on “Hidden Disabilities.”  Which is why I am so proud that they are gearing up to participate in the Sunflower Program.

The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower lanyard is a simple tool for you to voluntarily share that you have a disability or condition that may not be immediately apparent (such as Autism) – and that you may need a helping hand, understanding, or a little more time.  You can obtain the lanyard for free and no medical information needs to be given in order to be issued a lanyard. 

The Sunflower Program is currently recognized in over 200 airports worldwide and will soon be in place at PBIA. What I love about the Sunflower Program is that you don’t have to explain to every staff person you meet (TSA, Check-in, Flight Crews, etc) that your child has a Disability. They are trained to recognize the lanyard and simple ask “How can I help you?”  We have always found the staff to be patient, kind and most importantly understanding and accommodating. 

As part of the expansion at Palm Beach International Airport – Concourse B, there will also be a sensory room to create a calming space for travelers with autism and other sensory sensitivities and adult changing tables to accommodate the needs of disabled passengers and their caregivers. Truly, our community is paving the way in being an inclusive environment!

In the meantime, while they are still under construction and implementing this new program, rest assured this airport is one of the most Autism-friendly airports we have encountered across the United States. In fact, they partner with my twins’ school, The Palm Beach School for Autism, regularly to do “practice” flights with the children.

These mock flights begin with the children getting a boarding pass, going through the check-in process and security, getting to the gate, and even boarding a plane and getting to know the flight crew. These practice flights are a great tool to both prepare the children for travel AND educate the team at the airport on challenges that they may encounter in dealing with a passenger who are on the Autism Spectrum.

The airport also participates in TSA Cares, a helpline that provides travelers with disabilities, medical conditions, and other special circumstances additional assistance during the security screening process.  For more information on TSA Cares:

Most Autism-Friendly Beaches

Now that you’ve landed in paradise – I am quite certain one of your first stops will be to one of our breathtaking beaches located on the 47 miles of coastline here in Palm Beach County. And while there are approximately 27 beaches across our coastline – here are a few of the most accessible, Autism-friendly beaches we have found:

Oceanfront Park

Address: 6415 N Ocean Boulevard, Ocean Ridge, Boynton beach, FL 33435.

This is our go-to beach, and it is one of the most special needs friendly beaches in our county. There are plenty of parking spaces, which now use the ParkMobile app for parking fees – which is always a plus for families worrying about having to put money in meters, etc. Oceanfront Park offers beach wheelchairs if needed.  There is a giant playground, picnic areas, clean restrooms, and most importantly their lifeguards are on duty from 9 am – 5 pm every day and are certified First Responders/EMTs. 

The Palm Beaches, Florida: An Autism-Friendly Summer Destination

John D. MacArthur Beach State Park

Address: 10900 Jack Nicklaus Drive, North Palm Beach, FL 33408.

When we are looking to do more than just visit the beach, we venture north to John D. MacArthur Beach State Park. There is so much to do here – so if your kids are into nature trails, kayaks, snorkeling, and more… this is the place to go. And it is so peaceful!   We can easily make this an entire day of activities when we visit. They also offer beach wheelchairs if needed, available through Park Rangers.  Keep in mind though there are no lifeguards on this beach. They also have an incredible Nature Center filled with interactive exhibits that my twins just love! 

The Palm Beaches, Florida: An Autism-Friendly Summer Destination

Loggerhead Park and Juno Beach Pier

Address: 14200 US Highway 1, Juno Beach, FL 33408.

We always visit Loggerhead Park and the Pier after a day of fun at Loggerhead Marinelife Center. What makes this area so great for special needs families is the multitude of activities available, especially for children who may have short attention spans.  Located in the same parking lot as Loggerhead, you can start out at the Nature Trail first, which is a brief, educational trail, perfect for smaller children and then head over to the giant playground. There are shaded picnic tables, restrooms and showers located in the same parking area.  From here you can walk across the street to the beach. 

It is always one of the most peaceful beaches to visit.  If your kids are like mine and like to walk the beach – you can head north to the Juno Beach Pier. The pier offers guests 990 feet of great saltwater fishing and wonderful opportunities to enjoy the scenic view. They also have an onsite guest services team, snack bar, gift store as well as a variety of fishing tackle, including rental poles and bait.  For a very low fee you can fish or just walk the pier and enjoy the view. 

The Palm Beaches, Florida: An Autism-Friendly Summer Destination

Spanish River Park

Address: 3001 N State Road A1A, Boca Raton, FL 33431.

When we head to South County, Spanish River Park is one of our favorites!  The biggest reason – they have three tunnels that go under A1A to go from the park to the beach. The tunnels make it so much easier when trying to transport children back and forth to the beach – and lets face it, kids LOVE tunnels!!! From the bright murals to the echoes – I think my twins would rather spend their time running back and forth through the tunnels all day. On the park side, there are various nature trails and a giant playground with a zipline. This is always a favorite!  They also have shaded picnic areas and views of the Intracoastal Waterway. There is a vehicle fee to enter, which can be quite high – especially on weekends. So keep that in mind if you are planning to visit.  It is worth it if you are planning to spend the day. Bring a picnic, walk the trails, and enjoy the pristine beaches.

The Palm Beaches, Florida: An Autism-Friendly Summer Destination
Courtesy of Candi Spitz

Gulfstream Park

Address: 4489 N. Ocean Boulevard, Gulfstream, Florida 33483.

Lastly, on those days when we are looking for a smaller, quieter environment – especially for evening/sunset swims – Gulfstream Park is a favorite.  This family-friendly beach offers a peaceful environment: low crowds, a smaller beach, a playground, and a shaded picnic area. And parking is always free!

These are just a few of the beaches available from the north end to the south end of Palm Beach County – however, these are the favorites that we visit over and over again due to each being Autism-friendly. 
We hope you get to enjoy a few this summer!

More Sensory-Friendly Activities in Palm Beach County

The Palm Beaches, Florida: An Autism-Friendly Summer Destination

About the Author: Candi Spitz

Candi Spitz is the Director of Development and Community Relations for the non-profit 211 Palm Beach and Treasure Coast.  211 is the only free and confidential Crisis Hotline and Community Helpline serving the residents of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast that provides suicide prevention, crisis intervention, information, assessment, and referral to community service for people of all ages.

She has also served as an Ambassador for Project Lifesaver International Ambassador since 2012 and was currently serves as the Director of Ambassador and Public Relations.  Candi is also a radio and tv personality and has been the Host of WPTV NewsChannel 5’s segment “Take 5: Now You Know” since 2018.   She is the former National Spokesperson for Autism Speaks, she spent years as a Special Needs Advocate for the Palm Beach County Court System, and she has served as an autism trainer for Palm Beach County law enforcement and rescue workers.

Most importantly, she is the mother of identical twin sons, Brendan and Jaden, who both were diagnosed with Autism in 2009. She knows firsthand the struggles and concerns that families face each day as they navigate the maze of life with special needs and is passionate about helping families find the help they so desperately need.

The Palm Beaches, Florida: An Autism-Friendly Summer Destination


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