Is this the year hotels become more autism-friendly?

It isn’t easy traveling with a child with autism. In every piece of literature I’ve read about autism and sensory disorders and in every daily decision I’ve witnessed in my own son, autism is driven by routine. Travel is anything but routine. The fact that so many facets of travel are left up to chance makes many parents of autistic kids, as well as many adults living with autism, uneasy about leaving the comforts of home to explore new cities, countries, or cultures.

Since Gadling first reported on the Clinton Inn Hotel, a property in Tenafly, New Jersey, that re-designed its Alpine Suite to cater to families traveling with autistic children, more hotels are (slowly) starting to reach out to autistic travelers with autism-sensitive accommodations and amenities. The Center for Autism & Related Disorders, or CARD, a Tampa-based clinic, is ushering in many of these changes by working with local hotels to establish a standardized criteria by which accommodations can be deemed “autism-friendly.” In 2010, CARD designated the Wyndham Tampa Westshore as the first autism-friendly hotel in Tampa. Since then, five Tampa-area hotels and resorts, including the Tradewinds Resorts on St. Pete Beach, have earned “autism-friendly” status.

So, what makes a hotel “autism friendly?”The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that, in 2011, 1 in 110 children in the United States have Autism Spectrum Disorders. The neurological disease can affect everything from speech to emotional development to fine and gross motor skills. As it is “spectrum disorder,” autism affects every child it touches in different ways. But there are some easy steps that hotels can take to make accommodations more inviting for special needs travelers and more secure for the parents or companions who travel with them. These measures come from my own experience, suggestions on autism forums, and practices already in use at some autism-friendly properties. Many of these tweaks can be implemented easily at modern hotels, else a hotel can retrofit a room or rooms to accommodate guests with autism.

Measures to Make Hotels More “Autism Friendly”

  • Make all lighting adjustable with dimmers to accommodate travelers who have light sensitivities.
  • Provide temperature controls in rooms.
  • Ensure that all guest room doors have locks on the inside. Put alarms on all exit doors.
  • Many children on the autism spectrum are on restricted diets, whether because of food sensitivities (to taste, texture) or because of allergies. Provide mini fridges in guest rooms so that parents can store their own food and drinks.
  • Bolt down some decorations and amenities, such as lamps, televisions, and telephones.
  • Outfit balconies and/or windows with locks and/or keypads for safety. Many children on the autism spectrum have difficulties with spatial recognition, which could reduce their fear while on a balcony or near a window.
  • Avoid using harsh chemicals or cleaning products and provide frill-free decor. The more basic, the better.
  • Provide extra blankets and pillows. The extra weight simulates the feeling of a “hug” for some on the spectrum, and thereby ensures a more secure and restful sleep.
  • Bathtubs in guest bathrooms are preferable to showers.

As part of its “autism-friendly” services, the Wyndham Tampa Westshore provides kids with an overnight toolkit, which explains visually what to expect during a stay at the hotel; visual schedules have been proven very effective – whether at home, in class, or on the road – with autistic children who need to know what their routines will entail. The Wyndham has also enlisted CARD to train its staff to understand autism and how to cater to guests with autism. In addition to those services, the Tradewinds Resorts touts its recreational activities, such as Splash Island Water Park and the bungee trampoline, as highlights of its autism-friendly services.

Speaking as a parent of a five-year-old with autism and as a travel enthusiast, I would love to see more hotels work to attract travelers with special needs. With every 1 in 110 children in America living with autism, the market for autism-friendly hotels is enormous. And given that families touched by autism are bound by tedious daily routines, I foresee thousands of potential travelers in search of accommodations that will simplify the transition from home to hotel.

Do you know about more autism-friendly properties or hotel amenities? Please let us know in the comments below.

New Jersey hotel caters to children with autism

One New Jersey hotel is hoping to help families traveling with children with autism. The Clinton Inn Hotel in Tenafly has opened its Alpine Suite, specifically designed for kids with autism.

Tony Morreale, the hotel’s manager, and parent of an autistic child, came up with the idea after having trouble finding hotel rooms that were safe for children with varying degrees of autism. The Alpine Suite in the Clinton Inn Hotel is complete with furniture with rounded corners, décor that cannot be moved and an alarm on the door to alert grownups if a child tries to leave. Other added touches include plastic glasses instead of glassware, a flat-panel television set affixed to the wall, and safety latches on all the cabinets and drawers throughout the suite.

According to reports from a New Jersey government task force, 1 in 94 children in New Jersey has a form of autism; 1 in approximately 110 children across the nation falls somewhere on the autism spectrum. The Clinton Inn is hoping to help travelers with autistic family members sleep a little easier on vacation knowing their kids are safe in the hotel room.

The Clinton Inn Hotel is located minutes from New York City, so families looking for a New York escape can easily make the trek into Manhattan.

Autistic child kicked off flight

This is an unbelievable story. It would also make you think we live in old communist Russia, not a country priding itself for valuing diversity.

Yes, a mother and her child were kicked off an American Eagle flight because she “wasn’t able to control her toddler.”

According to ABC Eyewitness News, the mother says she was “doing all she could to calm the autistic boy,” but got “no sympathy from the flight crew.”

The flight attendant kept coming over and tugging the kid’s seatbelt to make it tighter. He, in turn, kept wiggling around and trying to get out of his seatbelt. And, according to the mother, the flight attendant kept coming over, reprimanding him, and yelling at him until he got really upset and started rolling around on the floor. At which point, everyone involved lost it.

Then, the pilot apparently made an announcement that there was a woman and her child on the plane and the child is uncontrollable. He turned the plane around and headed back to the terminal.

American Airlines (American Eagle’s parent), of course, had a different story. They said the mother was pitching a “raging fit” and refused to comply with FAA regulations.

My question is: what did the other passengers do? Did they try to help the mother? Did they offer to wait until the child settles down? Or, do we live in a world where independent judgment and flexibility have vanished?