- The Myrtle Beach area is the nation’s first autism-friendly vacation destination. Here’s what that could mean for the off-season
- How businesses can become autism-friendly
- Ripley’s Aquarium finds ways to be autism-friendly
- Beaches Resorts | Autism-Friendly Family Vacation Destination!
- Certified Autism Center
- Fun in the Sun
- Food, glorious food!
- Here are some additional tips to help make your Autism-friendly vacation at Beaches Resorts one to remember:
- Autism-Friendly Attractions And Destinations
- Arizona Attractions
- Across The Nation
- Companies That Care
- Lexington In Your Community
- 5 Autism Friendly Vacation Spots to Try
- What makes an autism friendly vacation spot?
- Planning your vacation
- Travel tips for special needs families:
- Travel tips for special needs families:
- 2018 Autism Travel Guide
- 6 Travel Preparation Tips
- 7 Road Trip Tips
- 5 Flying Tips
- 14 Top Autism-Friendly Vacation Destinations in the United States
- National Resources on Autism
- Tips For An Autism-Friendly Fourth of July
- Sesame Place
- Royal Caribbean Cruises
- Disney Resorts
- Myrtle Beach, SC
- San Diego Zoo
- Yellowstone National Park
- LEGOLAND Resorts
- Autism-Friendly Vacation Options Continue Growing
- How Carmen B. Pingree Can Help!
The Myrtle Beach area is the nation’s first autism-friendly vacation destination. Here’s what that could mean for the off-season
MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) — Summer in the Grand Strand can be a nightmare for someone with autism. It’s busy. It’s crowded. It’s bright and hot and loud and generally overwhelming for those who are sensitive to light and sound.
But the winter could be the perfect solution for families of someone on the spectrum — and a boost to the Grand Strand’s economy.
At least, that’s what one local organization is hoping.
“That is really the goal, and to make our autism families happy,” said Becky Large, the executive director of the Champion Autism Network (or CAN), an organization that aims to make the area more welcoming to those with the developmental disorder.
Large’s work in the autism community began after she relocated in 2012 to the area from New Jersey. Large, who has a child on the spectrum, soon learned there weren’t many autism resources in the area, and were even fewer that supported families.
Her efforts led to the start of sensory-friendly movie events in 2013, which includes lights being adjusted, sound lowered and an environment where viewers are welcome to get up and move around.
In 2014, the organization received a grant to begin training restaurants on being autism-friendly. Municipalities started declaring themselves as “autism friendly” a couple of years later, and today, CAN has about 2,000 families in its card program, which allows families to show the card at participating locations and be bumped to the front of lines, get expedited service and discounts.
Large said that those who have a child with autism want to have those traditional family experiences.
“The top thing that our families want to be able to do is just to go out to a restaurant,” she said.
“The potential for a tantrum or a meltdown
is huge the minute you leave the house”
– Becky Large
Trainings the organization has done at restaurants including teaching how to recognize if someone with autism is on the property and teaching about potential behaviors they might encounter.
The CAN cards, Large said, allow families to discreetly let a business know someone in the family has autism.
CAN also hopes that discounts will encourage families to share their situations with businesses instead of keeping them hidden.
“They rarely want to admit that they have somebody on the autism spectrum because there is so much judgment involved,” she said.
After working with restaurants, Large turned her attention to resorts and attractions.
“I started to realize we live in this fabulous tourist destination, this gorgeous beach area, and if we want to support families with autism, why not invite the autism world to come play with us at the beach?” she said.
Trainings have now branched out to resorts. CAN has also created online, on-demand training.
It’s all in the hopes that families with children on the spectrum can have less stress about vacations and having to educate everyone around them.
“There are a lot of those situations that are really challenging,” she said.
Quiet rooms, or areas where a child can decompress in stressful situations, can go a long way toward helping families.
“The potential for a tantrum or a meltdown is huge the minute you leave the house,” Large said.
How businesses can become autism-friendly
At resorts, being autism-friendly can include placing families in rooms away from elevators and ice machines or avoiding the ground floor.
As word spreads in the autism community, Large expects more visitors and businesses to participate in the program.
Being autism-friendly, she said, can be easy.
“It doesn’t cost anything to turn down the lights and turn down the music and have kind staff who are open and not judgmental,” she said.
About 1 in 54 children will be diagnosed with autism, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With diagnosis rates continuing to rise, autism-friendly travel has become an important and growing trend, according to Karen Riordan, the president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and the Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Riordan said Grand Strand area is the first — and she believes only — vacation destination to be autism-friendly.
“Because Myrtle Beach has always been a family-friendly destination, it’s vital that we recognize the challenges autism families may face when taking a vacation and help to alleviate those barriers,” Riordan said in an emailed statement. “We want everyone to feel welcome in our destination, and obviously we want them to come back again and again. The feedback from families who have taken advantage of our autism-friendly offerings has been positive.”
Riordan said Surfside Beach was designated as autism-friendly in 2016, and Myrtle Beach followed in 2018.
Riordan points to the Myrtle Beach International Airport’s quiet room, attractions that offer noise-canceling headphones and Project Lifesaver, which is a tracking wristband available at the Myrtle Beach Welcome Center that can be used within the area.
Ripley’s Aquarium finds ways to be autism-friendly
Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach offers sensory-friendly events once a month during its slow season. About 25 families attend each event, according to Jera Wunder, the assistant manager of admissions and photo.
Although its admission numbers decrease in the winter, the traffic at the events stays steady. Wunder said the aquarium is looking into expanding how often they do the events and are looking at hosting nighttime, autism-friendly events, as well.
The aquarium began researching how to be more autism-friendly more than three years ago.
“We want to make sure that everyone who comes has a great time,” she said.
That included having employees watch a video that shows what a child with autism might experience going into an environment with loud noises, bright lights and packed crowds.
“We wanted staff to take a look at that video and just imagine,” Wunder said.
At the autism-friendly events, the aquarium turns off the sounds, adjusts lights in most areas, adds paper towels around touch tanks and turns off the moving walkway.
“Although it is extremely fun to ride, it is very overwhelming and extremely stimulating,” Wunder said.
Throughout the year, the aquarium has a quiet room available and offers free noise-canceling headphones during the visit. Wunder said other accommodations can be made by visiting the aquarium’s service desk.
Beaches Resorts | Autism-Friendly Family Vacation Destination!
When traveling as a family, one of the first decisions to be made is the destination. For many families, this process can be as simple as closing your eyes and pointing to a location on the map, or as in-depth as hours upon hours researching the perfect location. Traveling with a child on the spectrum, travel planning is in-depth planning, but turn up the amplification x1000.
There are so many things to consider other than a destination… Weather, modes of transportation, activities, accommodations. All of these decisions are made through the lenses of your child’s particular needs.
You may want to visit a ski resort, but will they have lessons that accommodate children with all abilities? Hoping for a little fun in the sun, but the sand sends your child into sensory overload prompting a massive meltdown? Want to visit Mt.
Rushmore, but the airport is so loud that your child can’t function?
After facing a myriad of decisions these many parents feel defeated and give up on the idea of a vacation for their family altogether.
What if I told you that you didn’t have to give up? What if there were destinations where the staff was trained to love and nurture people of all abilities allowing you to fully enjoy your vacation? What if I told you there were kids club where the staff didn’t call you back in less than an hour to retrieve your child because they were ill-prepared to deal with your child’s challenges?
IBCCES is working to make that happen! IBCCES works with destinations and attractions to train and prepare staff for children of all abilities, but particularly for children on the Autism Spectrum. One of their first Autism Certified Centers was the Beaches Resorts brand!
This Fall, we had the privilege to visit Beaches Turks & Caicos, an IBBCES certified Autism center, and to say that we were blown away is an understatement!
Certified Autism Center
Beaches Resorts were the first resort company in the world to obtain the IBCCES Advanced Certified Autism Center designation. This means that all staff members went through a rigorous training program that includes an Autism overview, sensory awareness, communication styles, social skills and more.
The resorts also had to complete and pass an audit done by IBCCES to ensure they were compliant. Beaches wanted to ensure a seamless experience across their resorts so all three Beaches Resorts – Beaches Negril Beach Resort & Spa, Beaches Ocho Rios, and Beaches Turks & Caicos are Advanced Certified Autism Centers.
One of Roo’s favorite things about Beaches Resort is that there are designated quiet areas around the resort. These gave her the reprieve from sensory stimulation when areas in the resort were too loud or there were too many people.
The French Village’s pool area has an upper level with lounge chairs and that became one of her favorite spots.
Fun in the Sun
Every day that we were at Beaches Turks & Caicos, Roo would excitedly jump bed and ask to read the Kids Club schedule.
One of my favorite things about Beaches Resorts is that the Kids Club has something new and exciting to do each day of the week.
This means that if your family is visiting for 7 days, your child will not have to repeat the same activities over and over. Roo’s favorite part of the Kids Club was the opportunity to go swimming with her new friends that she made at camp.
Not only are the amazing Kids Camp staff certified childcare providers, but they are also Autism awareness-trained water sports specialists so that children of all swimming abilities can participate.
If you remember our snorkeling fiasco at the Great Barrier Reef you may know wasn’t sure when Roo would be ready to snorkel again, however, while at Beaches not only did she decide to try snorkeling again, she loved it! She was able to walk me through each of the steps of snorkeling and you could tell that the staff took the time necessary for her to fully understand the mechanics of snorkeling!
While at Beaches, Roo would lovingly “ditch” me every day to go to the Kids Club, and I will tell you that I have never been so excited to be ditched in my life. I knew that she was in good and capable hands that were prepared to tackle any challenges that may have come up for her when she was away from me.
Now you may be wondering, if kids are having all of that fun at the Kids Club during the day, what are you going to do with them in the evenings? There’s no need to worry, Beaches has that covered as well! In addition to the Kids Club schedule, Beaches Resorts has a daily activity schedule that is placed in your room during turn-down for the following day.
This schedule included activities from the Sesame Street lineup such as character breakfasts, character meet-n-greets, and the awesome Sesame Street parade.
Other family-friendly events include the weekly Beach Party, a sweets buffet, movies by the pool, and family karaoke! There is so much fun available, that you will never hear the phrase, “I’m Bored” the entire time you are on vacation! *insert praise break*
Food, glorious food!
One of the first things I have to consider when traveling is what Roo will eat. She has a list of food aversions a mile long and will refuse to eat anything at times. We did not have this problem the entire time she was at Beaches! Her absolute favorite places to eat were Mr.
Macaroni, Bobby Dee’s Diner, and ice cream from Curls n’ Swirls. If your child has a food allergy or food aversions, Beaches has it all figured out with their Culinary Concierge Program.
The Culinary Concierge can help you determine what food is allergy-friendly and can even arrange for your dinner to be prepared for your specific allergy needs.
The staff at Beaches Resorts always made Roo feel included and that makes all the difference to a child. Sadly, we have visited places where you could tell that she was merely being tolerated and her challenges were not welcome. We have never felt this at Beaches Resorts, not only at the Kids Club but consistently throughout the resort.
Each staff member greets you with a genuine smile and takes the time to interact with the kids. When Roo would run into a staff member that she had met before, they would always stop to speak to her and ask her day was going.
As a parent this is a key reason why I will continue to come back to Beaches Resorts, they make you feel at home and more importantly, family.
Here are some additional tips to help make your Autism-friendly vacation at Beaches Resorts one to remember:
– Be sure to fill out the pre-travel questionnaire and return it to the resort so that they can easily anticipate your child’s needs.
– If your child requires 1-to-1 interaction, Beaches Resorts can accommodate this need by assisting you with hiring a “Beaches Buddy”, so be sure to ask!
– Beaches offers private in-room check-in options for children who have sensory sensitivities.
Autism-Friendly Attractions And Destinations
At Lexington Services, we love our community and so do our members. Community-based learning and events help young people and adults with special needs to solidify their understanding of their community and the place that they hold in that group.
Everyone deserves the opportunity to discover the great places in their community and enjoy entertainment regardless of their abilities. There are an abundance of autism-friendly attractions and destinations mindful of people people with special needs across the state of Arizona and all over the nation to experience.
Here are a few of our local favorites and some national treasures that are worth the visit:
Arizona is very sensitive to community members with autism and other developmental or intellectual disabilities and many community businesses are autism-friendly attractions or have provisions for people with special needs.
One of the organizations that our community is lucky to have advocating for loved ones with ASD is Partners to Assist in Learning (PAL), which helps businesses to implement programs meant specifically for people with special needs such as special sensory days, special seating arrangements and to provide information for parents and caregivers so they can know if the event will be right for their loved ones. Some great PAL destinations are:
- The OdySea Aquarium – A sensory friendly journey through the depths of the sea with lots of touching and play involved. Click here for their accessibility page.
- The Children’s Museum Of Phoenix – One of our members’ recent favorites! A maze of different play activities complete with a giant “climber” for hours of fun. Look out for our video about our time there! Here is their accessibility page.
- The Arizona Diamondbacks – For kids that love sports, it’s great to get out in the spring and take in a ball game! The Diamondbacks are a PAL destination and you can find more info on their PAL page.
We have also been lucky to partner with other businesses and autism-friendly attractions in the community that are very accommodating to member needs.
Across The Nation
Now is the time to start planning for a spring break trip or early summer vacation with the whole family. Here are some of the best autism-friendly attractions and destinations we found that you can take the whole family:
- Morgan’s Wonderland – The first and only all accessible family fun park, Morgan’s Wonderland is the first theme park designed with people with special needs in mind. It’s the perfect place for families to let loose and every bit of the park is designed with them in mind.
- Disney Parks – Disney Parks are very mindful of visitors with disabilities, which makes them one of the most comprehensive Autism-friendly attractions. You can find an abundance of information and possible programs to take advantage of on your visit by checking their website. You can even get a Disney Disability Access Service (DAS) Pass which will reduce time spent in line and give you access to quiet and calm areas away from big crowds.
- Seaworld – All of Seaworld’s three locations are now autism-friendly attractions with special tours, quiet rooms and other accommodations for families traveling with people with autism.
- Skiing – For the families that love snow, there are many ski resorts across the nation that have accessibility programs and cater to all levels of skill.
- National Parks – Many of the great national parks are great destinations for kiddos with autism. Some popular autism-friendly attractions are the towering dunes of the Great Sand Dunes Park in Colorado or the glorious geyser, Old Faithful, at Yellowstone National Park, which has autism-friendly accomodations in the park! Click here to read a list of other great national parks to check out.
- Legoland – Legoland tops many of the lists as an autism-friendly attraction and kids love it!
- Royal Caribbean Cruises – Taking a cruise is a big adventure and Royal Caribbean has autism-friendly ships and highly trained crews to make the experience magical.
Though there is much progress still to be made, we are living in one of the most friendly and accessible time periods for people with special needs and that’s inspiring. This list only captures a fraction of the national destinations that are perfect autism-friendly attractions and great family getaways.
Companies That Care
Closer to home, if you are looking for every day places that are mindful of young people and adults with autism, there are many businesses that are leaping forward in strides to cater to the autism community. For example, Chuck E.
Cheese is the newest in a growing group of businesses to offer sensory friendly sundays for kids with autism to enjoy the fun. Movie theaters Harkins Theaters put on sensory friendly screenings for families to get the opportunity to enjoy movies on the big screen.
Other businesses also join in Jumpstreet, the indoor trampoline park, which opens its doors early the first Saturday of every month for young people with special needs and their families.
As this trend continues to grow, more and more community staples are beginning to offer sensory friendly days.
Lexington In Your Community
Have you seen Lexington Services out in the community? Check out our page to see members interacting with friends, neighbors, businesses and autism-friendly attractions and destinations around Arizona. Do you have questions about Lexington Services or would you to sign up for a campus tour? Give us a call at 480-900-1009 or contact us using the online form for more information.
Click here to read more blogs from Lexington Services.
Disclaimer: This post attempts to publicize ideas and comments that we find would be useful for our community to know. Our post is by no means intended to prompt you to handle your challenges in any specific way. We desire to bring helpful information to all our audiences and shine a light on popular topics.
5 Autism Friendly Vacation Spots to Try
A post by AngelSense, a GPS & voice monitoring solution designed for children with special needs.
Learn more about how AngelSense’s GPS tracking device brings peace of mind to parents and keeps children safe
A family getaway can be a great way to expose children with special needs to new experiences without overwhelming them. It will also give you an opportunity to bond with your special child away from the stresses of everyday life. And with more and more travel destinations offering autism friendly facilities, it’s becoming easier to plan a vacation your entire family will enjoy.
Children with special needs struggle with change which can make a vacation particularly challenging. However by carefully considering your child’s needs and choosing a suitable destination you’ll make the transition smoother and anxiety free.
What makes an autism friendly vacation spot?
For children with sensory processing issues, crowded places with loud noises and bright lights tend to be overwhelming. In this case, it’s best to avoid theme parks and major museums.
You may even decide to skip the more popular tourist destinations altogether. Of course, this all depends on the facilities on offer.
Many of the most popular holiday attractions, Disney World, offer services for children with special needs to help reduce their anxiety and sensory overwhelm.
In addition to helping your child adjust, wandering is another concern for many special needs parents especially when routines are disrupted.
Some hotels are quite accommodating and have special latches on doors and bathroom locks to prevent wandering. However, these safety measures are not offered everywhere and are often not enough.
Parents may want to consider investing in a GPS tracking device to make sure their child is safe while on the road.
Planning your vacation
For many special needs families, planning a fun, stress-free vacation is the hardest part. To help you get started, we’ve put together 5 vacation spots that are suitable for children with special needs. Some of these locations may not be ideal for your child, but our hope is that they’ll give you the inspiration to create the kind of vacation that memories are made of.
1. Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone is an incredible experience for children with special needs, and the perfect opportunity to let your child explore nature. Your children will get to see Old Faithful, colorful hot springs and mudpots. The scenery is breathtaking and there’s plenty to see and experience. This is the ideal trip for children who wildlife.
Travel tips for special needs families:
- Hotels in the area book up quickly so be sure to plan well in advance
- The pools have a sulfur smell which may bother children with sensory sensitivity
- The ground tends to be uneven and can be slippery so good walking shoes are a must
2. Tradewinds Resort
This is an autism friendly hotel which does everything possible to accommodate special needs families.
The hotel provides autism safety kits which include outlet covers and a hanging door alarm to prevent wandering.
In addition, there is a selection of nutritious gluten-free food on offer for children with special dietary needs. There are many fun activities to enjoy including a selection of sensory activities.
Travel tips for special needs families:
- There are no lifeguards at the hotel pools so parents need to be extra vigilant
- There are several pet-friendly rooms for families traveling with a service dog
- Some of the hotel restaurants may be too noisy for children with autism
3. Lake Tahoe
There are many skiing resorts in Lake Tahoe which offer adaptive skiing programs specially tailored to suit children with special needs. These programs have been found to be very beneficial for children with sensory and behavioral issues. Ski instructors are taught to use adaptive behavior techniques to reframe seemingly negative behavior, obsessiveness, as a way to teach children to ski.
2018 Autism Travel Guide
Traveling can be a challenge in some way or another for all families – particularly so for families with a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Unfamiliar places, frequent transitions, large crowds, and loud noises are just a few things parents try to avoid when planning a vacation for a child with special needs.
To help families best prepare for vacations, we created an Autism Travel Guide, packed with travel preparation tips, road trip tips, flying tips, and the most autism-friendly vacation destinations in the United States.
6 Travel Preparation Tips
When traveling with children who have ASD, it is important to consider how each child might react in new situations. It is important to include and prepare everyone in the family so that everyone can enjoy the vacation.
An effective way to help children on the spectrum feel more comfortable on a trip is to role-play what the trip might look . Role-playing in advance allows kids to understand what to expect while on the upcoming vacation rather than being entirely overwhelmed by the new experiences.
- Pack the right gear.
Make sure your child has access to preferred comfort items. Some useful items to consider bringing are:
- Noise-canceling headphones
- Weighted blanket
- Sensory toys
- Forms of identification
- Favorite toy/blanket
- Create an itinerary.
By creating an itinerary and discussing it in advance, you minimize the surprises that might occur while on vacation.
- Create a visual calendar.
These vacation-prep calendars should display how long the trip will last, along with main events and activities. This is an efficient tool to help children on the spectrum truly visualize and understand what the trip will entail.
- Collect photos of the places you will go.
Another helpful way to make sure children are comfortable in new surroundings is to collect photos of all vacation destinations. Grabbing photos off the Internet of hotels or accommodations, as well as any planned events and day trips, is a huge help in reducing the anxiety that children on the spectrum might feel in an unfamiliar environment.
Make sure to involve your child in the planning of your trip, whether it is researching your destination together or picking out a new swimsuit. The more involvement before the trip, the better!
7 Road Trip Tips
Road trips are a fun way to bond with your family and give children an opportunity to experience different places; however, they can also come with another set of challenges. With the help of the autism experts on our clinical team, we have compiled a variety of tips to help reduce some of that overwhelming road trip stress.
1. Start with small trips. Before leaving for an extended amount of time, try working your way up to a longer trip by taking a few day trips.
2. Map your route and mark off where you will stop ahead of time to avoid any surprises.
3. Assign Seating. If you have a car full of kids that tend to disagree on where to sit, try assigning seats to avoid any uncertainty, while still keeping in mind the needs of each child.
4. Snacks. Snacks are key in making sure everyone stays happy on the road. Make sure to pack plenty of snacks that you know your child s. Also, bring along water or any other favorite drinks to keep everyone hydrated.
5. Entertainment. Most road trips tend to take up a good chunk of time, so it’s critical to have a variety of entertainment options for the ride. It’s always easy to pop in a few DVD’s, but if you are looking for something other than a movie, below is a list of items to consider packing for your road trip:
- Coloring books
- Playlist of songs you know your child s to sing along to
- Your child’s favorite books
- iPad with some favorite games
- Fidget spinner
- Sensory bracelets/squeezable items
- Card games
- Silly puddy
- Chewy sensory necklace
- Stuffed animals and pillows
5. Take Frequent Breaks. It is important to take frequent breaks for everyone involved in a road trip. Try planning your break around areas where your child can learn something new or run around to release some of that energy from sitting in the car, but more importantly, make sure there is a restroom!
6. Leave in the evening. If possible, try planning your road trip around an evening departure time – that way, most of the trip is spent with the children sleeping and limited traffic jams.
5 Flying Tips
Flying with a child on the Autism Spectrum may initially seem a tall order, but planning ahead with these flying tips will help ensure the smoothest ride possible.
Call the airport prior to booking the trip to see if they provide assistance for kids with special needs. Some airports provide possible walkthroughs or special boarding accommodations.
2. Book a direct flight
Limit layovers to reduce the amount of transitions in getting on and off an airplane. This also helps dial back the amount of time spent around large crowds with loud sounds.
3. Seat selection
If possible, choose a seat closest to the front of the plane to reduce the time spent getting on and off the place.
Also, consider which seating arrangement will be most comforting for your child – aisle seats offer easy bathroom breaks, middle seats can offer a seat in between two familiar faces when traveling in groups, and window seats offer spectacular views that children might enjoy.
4. Bulk row seating can offer extra space to make sure no other passengers are affected by any stimming activities. It’s also best to avoid the seats closest to the restrooms with the most passenger traffic.
5. TSA Pre-Check
Kids ages 12 and under who have a parent or guardian with TSA Pre-Check are able to accompany them through the TSA Pre-Check line. This limits the amount of undressing and helps families get through those large security lines quicker.
14 Top Autism-Friendly Vacation Destinations in the United States
It’s always challenging to pick a vacation destination that pleases all family members – especially when trying to select a place with limited crowds and an understanding staff. Below is a list of some different autism-friendly places to vacation with your family.
- Shared Adventures– Located in Santa Cruz, California, Shared Adventures offers an array of summer programs for special needs children and adults. Some of their programs include assisted kayaking, canoe rides, and scuba diving.
- Crested Butte Mountain Resort in the Rocky Mountains- The resort has trained staff who work with the Adaptive Sports Center. These experts have decades of experience working with children on the Autism Spectrum, allowing families to enjoy activities skiing, snowboarding, hiking, water sports, and more.
- Tradewinds Island Resorts in St. Petersburg Beach- Staff has been trained specifically to work with kids with special needs, and each visit is customized to the specific needs of each family.
- Crowne Plaza in Tampa- Staff members undergo special training to work with children with special needs, including ASD. There are many sensory-friendly activities to do as a family.
- Disney World– For some families, Disney World could be a challenging vacation destination if their child has difficulties with large crowds and noises. However, Disney World does offer a special pass for kids who have special needs – the Disney Disability Access (DAS) program. This pass allows families to skip those long wait times via fast access lanes.
- Edaville Family Theme Park– Located in Carver, Massachusetts (about an hour outside of Boston), Edaville Family Theme Park offers an extremely inviting atmosphere for kiddos in the autism community. The railroad-themed park is equipped with a quiet room, fidget spinners, weighted blankets, and sensory toys to accommodate the needs of all guests.
- American Museum of Natural History– The museum offers ‘Discovery Quad Tours’ for families with children on the autism spectrum. Tours are available on select Saturday mornings before the museum is open to the public. Registration is required, so be sure to call ahead of time.
- Elmwood Park Zoo– In early May 2018, Elmwood Park Zoo became the first zoo in the world to become a Certified Autism Center. With trained staff, Elmwood Park Zoo has become an autism-friendly destination year-round as opposed to offering autism-friendly options here and there.
- Surfside Beach– In 2016, Surfside Beach in South Carolina signed a proclamation to make the area the first autism-friendly travel destination. The beach offers events ranging from sensory-friendly movies to fishing lessons, as well as group events at restaurants.
- Dollywood– Dollywood is dedicated to providing all guests with an enjoyable and inclusive environment. The theme park offers ride accessibility and park accessibility guides to help families plan their trips. The theme park also created a social story of what to expect when visiting, as well as a calming room to help guests get an escape from any sensory overload.
- Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio, Texas- Morgan’s Wonderland is a safe waterpark that was built specifically for kids with all different kinds of special needs, including autism. The water park holds special events throughout the year starting after Memorial Day.
- Lost Pines Spa and Resort– This resort, located in Austin, Texas, is the perfect quiet getaway for a family vacation. The resort has special accommodations for guests with special needs and offers a variety of fun activities, including a lazy river, evening campfires, daily games, and more.
- Splore– Located in the greater Salt Lake City area, as well as the Moab and Canyonlands area, Splore offers a wide variety of adaptive adventure programs, canoeing, climbing, and snowshoeing. Splore also offers adaptive outdoor sports and education programs.
- Great Wolf Lodge– Located in Williamsburg, the Great Wolf Lodge is an inexpensive way to please everyone on the family vacation. There are tons of free sensory-friendly activities, along with plenty of food options that are sure to make everyone in the family happy. There are Great Wolf Lodge locations all over the United States in case a different location is more convenient for your family.
At the end of the day, you know your child better than anyone, so you may find that some of these tips might need to be modified. Try them out in your own way to see what works for you and your family. Most importantly, have fun!
National Resources on Autism
CDC: New Autism Data
CDC: Autism Facts
CDC: Autism Spectrum Disorder
Tips for Holiday Travel
National Institutes of Mental Health: ASD
The Autism Society
Autism Society: Travel Tips
18 Autism-Friendly Things to Do in Houston
Tips For An Autism-Friendly Fourth of July
There’s no better way to bond as a family than to hit the road for a fun family vacation. Unfortunately, not all vacation destinations are created equally when it comes to being autism-friendly.
Vacations to a resort or park which lacks adequate accommodations for children with autism can result in an unpleasant experience.
Autism-friendly places to visit will be sure to take your child’s special needs into consideration in order to find solutions that make sure that everything stays positive from the day you arrive until the day you head back home with a whole heap of happy, new memories to take with you.
It should come as no surprise that a show which has done such amazing work with representation to try to ensure that every child who watches can relate to at least one character also has been a leader in the field of autism-friendly places to visit.
From meeting Julia, Sesame Street’s first character with autism, to getting to know all your child’s other favorites, Sesame Place was also the world’s first Certified Autism Center.
You can plan your vacation secure in the knowledge that you’ll encounter eager staff who are trained in helping your family have the best time possible.
Royal Caribbean Cruises
A cruise ship may not be the first thing you expect to see on a list of autism-friendly vacations, but Royal Caribbean is an industry leader.
It was the first cruise line to be declared autism-friendly and earned that distinction by making sure to take care of their passengers with autism for their entire time onboard the ship.
There are special rooms available as well as autism-friendly movies, sensory toys, and more available to ensure your child has a great and comfortable time.
“The happiest place on earth” has made a point of ensuring that its tagline remains true for all guests, and that includes earning a place as one of the best autism-friendly places to visit.
Despite the large crowds that Disney parks draw, they have procedures to help accommodate guests with autism and all staff members are trained in how to properly interact with them to make the child feel comfortable.
Myrtle Beach, SC
A beach vacation is an excellent summertime retreat and one of the best autism-friendly family vacations to consider. The nearby town, Sunside Beach set out to become the world’s first officially recognized autism-friendly town, with convenient access to the beautiful beaches which are a little less crowded to avoid overstimulation.
If you are traveling with a child with autism who loves nature, then a camping trip can be one of the best and most affordable autism-friendly family vacations available.
All you need is to find an appropriate campground, whether that is in a state park or just your own backyard. Prepare for some fun in the great outdoors, sleeping in a tent, and cooking s’mores on a campfire.
It’s an excellent option for families where one or more members don’t enjoy being in crowded public spaces.
San Diego Zoo
San Diego is one of the most beautiful places in America and the San Diego Zoo offers you the chance to check out exotic animals while enjoying the lovely weather San Diego is famous for.
In addition to many different animals from around the world, the zoo includes quiet areas the sun for when stimulation gets too high, as well as an Easy Access Pass to help your child avoid possible causes for agitation.
Yellowstone National Park
No list of autism-friendly places to visit is complete without Yellowstone National Park. One of the world’s most famous nature reserves, Yellowstone has something for everyone.
From beautiful views to breathtaking wildlife to dazzle your eyes, and hot springs and mud pits to wow your other senses, you can spend an entire week in the park and still feel there’s so much more to see.
It also offers autism-friendly lodging to help you rest comfortably when the day ends.
LEGO has endured as a popular children’s toy from one generation to the next, and the LEGOLAND resorts offer families the chance to enter into the fantastical world of LEGO together.
The Florida location has paired with Autism Speaks to become an autism-friendly vacation spot, including the addition of a special section of the park which is quiet and has sensory-stimulation activities to help your child enjoy themselves.
Passes can also be received to skip the anxiety of crowded lines.
A trip abroad is a great way to expand your child’s world view and with the experience curated by A Million Senses, you can explore some of Greece’s ancient and beautiful cities in an autism-friendly manner. They help with everything from finding accommodations to scheduling activities led by trained therapists to make sure that everything goes as smoothly as possible while you visit the Mediterranean.
For an outdoor adventure that can’t be beaten, the not-for-profit Splore offers opportunities specifically geared toward children and adults with special needs. Rock climbing, river rafting, horse rides, and hikes are just some of the options available, and special accommodations can be made at mealtimes to keep everyone happy.
Autism-Friendly Vacation Options Continue Growing
It’s normal to feel added pressure when looking for autism-friendly vacations for your children because you never want to spend all that money only to provide a negative experience for the ones you love.
As more and more destinations begin to understand the importance of an autism-friendly approach, the options for families traveling with their children with autism only grows.
Your perfect vacation is out there waiting for you!
How Carmen B. Pingree Can Help!
For all other seasons throughout the year, Carmen B. Pingree specializes in multiple programs that teach and care for children with autism. Throughout the school year, we host various fun activities, carnivals, for our students. If you’d more information, please contact us today!