People often ask us whether it is appropriate for their kids with autism to participate in a dolphin encounter. As with any activity, the level of the individual’s functioning is always a consideration, along with age and personal interest level. As a family, we have done multiple encounters in such places as Hawaii, Mexico, and Florida.
Since dolphin experiences tend to be pricey, it helps to know what to expect. That way, parents can choose the type of experience best suited to their family without breaking the bank and disappointing the kids.
What the Child Should Know
Before even considering the investment, parents should make sure that their child is totally comfortable in the water. In most cases, children don’t have to be fully fledged swimmers yet. If they know how to float and control their body in chest level water, that is good enough.
It is important for a child to have a basic understanding of cause and effect, danger, and of what might cause harm to the dolphins. A dolphin is a beautiful living creature and cannot be jabbed, scratched, poked at, or bitten without serious consequences.
The splashing and noises from the dolphins communicating and even from the trainers’ commands will be loud. Noise sensitive children could try earplugs. Parents can also bring their child to a dolphin show or a dolphin training session to desensitize them.
If the child is already uncomfortable at a show, this might not be the right experience at this particular time. In such cases, it may be best for parents revisit the idea at a later date once their child is more comfortable as it is always better to build on positive experiences.
What Parents Should Know
Some dolphin experiences cater to those with disabilities and are happy to accommodate travelers as much as possible. When making or even considering making a reservation, parents should call ahead and speak to management and ask fundamental questions, expressing concerns about the details and challenges of one’s child’s unique autism experience.
Doing this can be helpful in deciding to proceed. It can also give parents a feel for how accepting and accommodating the particular company is for those with autism. If one’s reasonable questions or desires aren’t met with compassion, respect, and understanding, then work with a better-suited organization that will do their best to help create a rewarding and positive experience.
If possible, parents may want to opt for a shorter first encounter. Parents might not know for certain how well their child will adapt and enjoy this first time around. Something thirty minutes or less is a good starting point until families can determine how comfortable a child will be being splashed, touched, and playing with dolphins.
While gentle, beautiful, and immensely intelligent and intuitive creatures, dolphins are enormous and powerful. This fact can be overwhelming to smaller children in particular. Dolphin encounters are typically only for kids ages six and older. The size and sudden movements of the dolphin can frighten younger kids.
Wild dolphin encounters offered in some tropical areas are probably not a best first-time option. Although exceedingly rare, accidents can occur with untrained wild dolphins in an uncontrolled environment.
Every destination offers a different experience.
Some encounters include swimming with, or on, the Dolphins. Others are more passive experiences where dolphins may simply greet standing families in shallow waters. Other types of experiences, such as dolphin training camps or institutions, may have participants follow detailed directions to encourage specific behaviors from the dolphins.
They can all make for very magical memories and tactile experiences. However, they can also prove to be quite overwhelming and, in some cases, frightening.
Taking kids on a dolphin encounter is an excellent way to get them connected with wildlife. As long as precautions are taken, any child can have a great time petting or swimming with dolphins.
Have you taken your child on a dolphin encounter? What was your experience?