Surfside Beach: An Autism Friendly Travel Destination

by the Town of Surfside Beach

Last month, the Town of Surfside Beach celebrated its second anniversary of being the First Autism Friendly Travel Destination—anywhere. The City of Myrtle Beach and Horry County issued similar resolutions at the end of 2018. 

People with autism have a hard time with lights, sounds, smells, crowds and new environments. As autism is a communication disorder, many with autism can only express their discomfort via tantrums and meltdowns. These episodes are many times greeted by stares, judgement and rude comments from those nearby, making it difficult and uncomfortable as a family, to leave the house, try new things or even go to the grocery store. 

Being understanding of the sensory challenges people with autism and their families face is important. Since January 2016, Surfside Beach and the autism friendly travel initiative have been recognized nationally by NBC Nightly News, Travel & Leisure, the Associated Press and many others. 

In December, Surfside was visited by the British Broadcasting Corporation, documenting our community, and other communities in America, that support families with autism. The documentary is to air in the spring.

The efforts by our Town and region, in conjunction with Champion Autism Network, provide our community with increased economic opportunity, attracting a loyal and growing population.

Having the community members more aware of the challenges those with autism and their families face, helps to reduce judgement and criticism and provides those families with the courage to leave the house and have fun as a family.

Some autism facts:

  • Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.
  • Some people with autism cannot speak, but they can understand what is being said to or about them. Be kind.
  • Many people with autism have difficulty with social interaction and making eye contact.
  • As of April 2018, the diagnosis rate is 1 in 59 children. 
  • Flapping of hands, spinning or rocking, known as “stimming,” calms people with autism.
  • Many children with autism have trouble with crowds, lights, sounds and smells. As behavior is a form of communication, some communicate their discomfort through meltdowns or tantrums.
  • If you see a child having a meltdown, this could be a person and autism family in crisis—not a naughty child or poor parent. 

Educating the public about the needs of our families will reduce judgement. Providing a supported vacation, modified for family members with autism, will be not only good for the local and tourist families but for our region and economy.

To learn more or get involved, please go to

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