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Sensitive hotel hospitality for children with sensory issues

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Sensitive hotel hospitality for children with sensory issues

How can you cater to these families and make them feel comfortable?

Approximately 1 in 88 children in the United States1 and 1 in 100 in the United Kingdom2 are on the autism spectrum. In the U.S., this ten-fold increase over the past 40 years represents growing rates worldwide, particularly among industrialized countries with sufficient and accurate tools for diagnosis.

What this means is that more of the families who stay at your property will include kids who experience difficulties in social interaction, as well as a host of other sensory processing issues. For these children, traveling means overwhelming changes in routine and environment. How can you cater to these families and make them feel comfortable?

Margalit Strum Francus is the mother of an autistic son, as well as the publisher of the travel resource and review site AutisticGlobetrotting.com, which provides information and advice on facilitating travel with autistic children. Her candid posts on hotel stays detail what works and doesn’t work for her family.

In general, she prefers hotel chains, so she knows in advance what to expect. Because her son also suffers from allergies, they seek out Marriott and Omni Hotels properties, which offer allergen free rooms or allergy-free floors. Francus also likes the Dan Hotel chain in Israel, particularly for its spacious rooms, convenient and quiet Executive Club level, and the Danyland kids club, which provides a stimulating yet manageable environment.

“In today's competitive hospitality world, the growing autistic community should not be neglected,” Francus says. “When a hotel makes the effort to cater to our special needs, it tells me the hotel respects us as customers, and is interested in our continued patronage.”

Based on growing demand, some autism organizations now offer travel advice and recommendations on their websites. The National Autistic Society in the United Kingdom offers a list of autism-friendly holiday venues. It recommends that parents whose children are sensitive to noise should clarify a hotel room’s location during the booking process, to avoid staying close to any noisy areas, including the pool area, above the bar or restaurant, or near the elevators.

Francus and other autism travel experts note that there are many guest room features which hotels or resort properties should consider, some of which can be implemented at low cost.

These include:

  • Welcome kits with soft toys or stuffed animals to make children feel like they’re at home.
  • Furnishings, décor, and electronics should bolted to the wall, with padding on all pointy edges. Autistic children can move involuntarily; while others may be prone to physical outbursts.
  • Some autistic children have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), and become anxious about cleanliness. More tissue boxes, trash cans, and chairs (to avoid sitting on beds) are helpful.
  • Complimentary wifi, since many autistic children utilize online programs through tablets and laptops.
  • Allergen-free environments, with no plants, and chemical-free cleaning products.
  • Lists of local restaurants that cater to the special needs community.

Some properties go as far as designing rooms and special programs specifically for autistic kids:

  • The Coworth Park Hotel in Berkshire, U.K., offers autism-friendly horse lessons and a kids club that incorporates sensory play.
  • The Wyndham Garden Resort in Austin, Texas, USA, has specially-equipped "Thoughtful Rooms" that contain door alarms, childproofed drawers and outlets, and special toys and books.
  • The Tradewinds Resort in St. Petersburg, Florida, organizes sensory activities, offers a gluten-free menu, and provides free safety kits.

“We pride ourselves on catering to families at TradeWinds,” said Keith Overton, president of the TradeWinds Island Resorts. “The goal of our program is to provide families with autistic children the peace of mind they need to take a relaxing vacation that their entire family can enjoy.”

  • 1. Autism Speaks: http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/facts-about-autism
  • 2. The National Autistic Society: http://www.autism.org.uk/about-autism/myths-facts-and-statistics.aspx