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For many years, families living with autism have taken a chance with their family vacations. They’ve chosen resorts that may or may not be accommodating to their specific needs, or perhaps have traveled to a destination that touts itself as “autism-friendly.”
But what does an autism-friendly destination look like? What accommodations do they offer families with special needs? What kinds of preplanning tools do they offer families? Is the staff properly trained in autism awareness?
Perhaps “autism-friendly” isn’t enough. Now destinations are stepping up in a big way, offering services and accommodations that are not only autism-friendly, but autism-certified.
What Is Autism-Certified?A welcomed development in autism family travel has been the introduction of Certified Autism Centers (CACs). Introduced by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), the certification gives families living with autism the assurance that a resort or theme park has been properly trained in autism awareness.
Suppliers can become certified by applying through IBCCES. After completing an online training program and exam, IBCCES verifies that all requirements have been met before approving the certification and designating a destination or attraction as a Certified Autism Center.
All certified centers are dedicated to serving individuals with autism. They must have at least 80 percent of staff trained and certified in the field of autism; maintain compliance with national healthcare and education accreditation standards; comply with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements; and commit to ongoing training in autism.
IBCCES experts can also provide certified centers with comprehensive reports that include suggested changes or modifications, in addition to sensory guides for activities, to better serve individuals on the spectrum.
Several well-known destinations have gone through the certification process and are now certified. Noteworthy hotels and resorts include Beaches Negril Resort & Spa in Negril, Jamaica; Beaches Ocho Rios Resort & Golf Club in Ocho Rios, Jamaica; Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort Villages & Spa in Turks and Caicos; Grand Palladium Bavaro Suites Resort & Spa in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; and Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts Punta Cana in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. VillaKey, a property management and rental company, is autism-certified, too.
In the U.S., family-friendly attractions that are certified include Aquatica Orlando in Orlando, Fla.; Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia; Space Center Houston in Houston, Texas; and Sesame Place in Langhorne, Penn.
One Certified Autism Center that is especially welcoming to families living with autism is Sesame Place. They have many accommodations in place for such families, and the theme park provides a vacation planning guide, a sensory guide for each attraction and autism social story videos on its website so that parents and families can prepare for their trip ahead of time. Once there, guests will have access to ride assistance passes and quiet rooms, which help families living with autism to navigate the park with less stress. The park’s staff, most of whom understand behavioral and sensory issues that kids with autism face, will put parents at ease. And, thanks in large part to the accommodations that were suggested by IBCCES, families living with autism are experiencing vacations like never before.
How Can Travel Advisors Get Involved?IBCCES also has a training course for travel advisors. Advisors who complete the IBCCES certification course, which focuses on autism travel needs and accommodations for clients, can designate themselves as Certified Autism Travel Professionals (CATP). CATPs graduate from the program with a broader understanding of autism and family travel, as well as how to provide support and travel-related services to families living with autism.
Once advisors complete the certification program, they can list their agency and contact information on Autism Travel's website, IBCCES’ companion website for consumers. Here, families living with autism can search for Certified Autism Centers to gather inspiration for their upcoming travel plans, and they can search for Certified Autism Travel Professionals.
Once client select a CATP with whom they would like to work with, they can contact the advisor directly via Autism Travel's website.
The DetailsAutism Travelwww.autismtravel.com
International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards www.ibcces.org