Hopefully, touring with an autistic little one will turn out to be much less restrictive and aggravating
Shutterstock / Sumroeng Chinnapan
It is now becoming less restrictive to travel with an autistic child thanks to destinations that receive an Autism Travel Certificate.
The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards certifies organizations to make them autism-friendly (autism-friendly in and of itself doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but certification means that at least 80 percent of employees have received autism training).
Targets who wish to receive Proof of Entitlement must complete evidence-based training. Certification also typically requires an on-site review with additional recommendations about policies, procedures, communications, and other improvements to the guest experience, said Meredith Tekin, Florida-based IBCCES president.
Targets that want to take this even further can become Advanced Certified Autism Centers, and for that they will need to conduct additional training.
All certified locations are listed here at autismtravel.com.
“Every family and individual is a little different so they know their needs best. However, choosing organizations that are dedicated to the CAC process and communicate directly with families to roll out the welcome mat is a good start.” said Tekin.
To be certified, 80 percent of the staff at each location who interact with visitors must receive up to 21 hours of training to learn more about autism and communication. to pass a test; and to be recertified every two years.
Mesa, Arizona was the first autism certified city in the country, attributable to Garcia’s disastrous trip with his son.
“I said,” I can’t do anything about it in California, but I can do something about it in Mesa, “Garcia said.
Today the Visit Mesa website has certified sensory guides that parents can use to determine how their children may be affected by each attraction before visiting. For example, if the family wants to go to Jake’s Unlimited – a theme park traditionally unsuitable for autistic children due to its abundance of lights, movements, and sounds – they can check out the guide who rates and describes each ride. The Spin Zone bumper cars are “low impact” but are “likely to have loud noises from other drivers as well as ambient noise from other areas of the room.”
The Autism Travel Planning website also lists the hotels, restaurants, and attractions that have been certified for autism.
Children on the autistic spectrum are at risk for sensory overload, so noisy venues, bright lights, and crowds can be difficult, especially when they are on vacation and not part of their normal routine.
“By curating environments and events that have been modified for people with autism – and educating hotels, restaurants, venues and the general public about the needs and accommodations of our people with autism and their families, autism families feel safer to leave their homes and try something new, be it a movie, bowling, dining, or vacation, ”said Becky Large, founder and chief executive officer of Champion Autism Network based in Surfside Beach, SC
In addition to looking for destinations certified for autism, Large also looked for places that are aware of the challenges associated with traveling with autistic children and gradually address those challenges.
Leslie Ryann McKellar / NYT
For example, Myrtle Beach offers a modified roadside check-in service in hotels, as well as access to noise-canceling headphones for louder attractions.
Recently named a Certified Autism Center, Seaworld in Orlando now offers a quiet space for those in need of sensory stimulation relief. It has an additional sensory area in the middle of the park as well as certified staff trained on people with autism.
Some spots that aren’t necessarily autism certified offer extra lessons only for those on the spectrum. Mission San Juan Capistrano recently launched a pilot program open to ASD adults and children with their families. You will be invited into the house on special dates at special times so that it is quieter. A quiet room has also been created for visitors who need a room to decompress.
Slated to open outside of New York City in the spring or summer, Legoland New York Resort has quiet rooms with weighted ceilings, dim lighting, and tactile toys. Legoland Florida Resort and Legoland California have already implemented these spaces in their parks and hotels.
Courtesy Legoland Florida
Not sure where to start? The KultureCity app provides resources and information on sensory inclusive locations, certification for spots that have completed initiatives such as staff training and effective changes to ensure daily accessibility for all, said Rose Morris, mother of one son on the autism spectrum and founder from Abram’s Nation, a Pittsburgh-based company that develops solutions for families with special needs.
Families can also prepare before the vacation, whether the destination is certified or ready for those on the spectrum.
“If you’re arriving by plane, call ahead and record the diagnosis on your file,” said Morris. “You can also request early seating for a little more time and a little less chaos in the boarding process.”
It is also helpful to research the restaurants ahead of time with the child so that they can select the menu items, which makes this a predictable part of the trip, said Claire Thomas-Duckwitz, a Longmont, Colorado-based licensed psychologist who herself specializes in children with neurodevelopmental disabilities.
“Familiarity and predictability are key,” said Thomas-Duckwitz.
Some other strategies include viewing the hotel and destination online each night for a week or two before traveling with your child. It’s also helpful to stay in the same hotel chair every trip so there is some familiarity and predictability, she said.