With recent US studies showing that 1 in 68 children receive a diagnosis somewhere ‘on the spectrum,’ autism issues are on the rise. There needs to be more attention paid to these matters, especially in the hotel industry. Families who have children with special needs, such as autism, often encounter extra challenges in life. When it comes to travel and hotel stays, these challenges become even more evident. With dedicated training, attentiveness and a general increase in awareness, hotel staff could make the visits of their guests with autism easier and far more pleasant for all involved.
Some accommodations for families with autism are more successful than others, and some need improvement. In all the years our family has traveled around the world with our son with autism, we have learned what works for us and what doesn’t. Here are a few tips, ideas, and suggestions that the hotel industry should consider implementing.
Have a Knowledgeable Concierge
The concierge is often one of the first people hotel guests have contact with on arrival. They help make reservations and other arrangements to ensure an easy stay. For guests with autism, concierge staff could expand their role to include assistance with medical rentals and purchases of needed supplies from drugstores and local pharmacies.
Furthermore, it would be helpful if the hotel staff compiled a list of both outdoor and indoor activities in the area suitable for children with special needs and autism. Families dealing with autism always want to know about free events or places that offer discounted rates for autism.
Create a Social Story
Social stories are an ingenious and modern way of educating and engaging children with autism. Most children seem to relate well to these little mini-books that describe situations in a patient and reassuring way. For those with autism, these stories are a form of role-playing that they can understand.
Hotels should create a social story unique to their properties. In the story, animated characters could walk their readers through the hotel public areas and room while explaining proper behavior in each location and situation. This method works well even for kids with autism who are non-verbal.
Update the Menus
Hotels that have restaurants on-site need to make sure that there are more gluten-free options on the menus. These restaurants should also have other choices that cater to those with food restrictions, such as nut-free and dairy-free. These options should extend to the room-service menu as well.
Also, offering longer breakfast buffet hours in some cases can be helpful. Families with autism often find the morning transition challenging as it is, so this would be an appreciated option.
Hotel restaurants should designate a table or two in a more secluded part of the dining area to provide a quieter space for patrons with autism. Restaurant staff should ensure that the table is nowhere near the entrance to the kitchen or bathrooms. These places are not quiet spots and might be challenging for visitors that are smell sensitive. If the restaurant has any background or live music, the designated quiet tables should be away from the stage, the loudspeakers or any other source of music.
Additional Training for Kids Club Staff
The kids clubs in most hotels do a fabulous job providing entertainment to many children of all ages. However, many personnel do not have the specific behavior training to handle children with autism. Hotels should train their kids club staff to become more autism aware. Companies also need to equip staff with the right tools to accommodate guests with autism.
Moreover, the staff should be taught that when any kid with autism feels overwhelmed, they should have the option to take any arts and crafts activity and do it in their room or come at assigned times when the club is less busy so they can get more personalized attention.
Make Rooms More Autism-Friendly
It would behoove hotels to overhaul at least some of their rooms to accommodate guests with autism and allergies. To help patrons with allergies, hotels could stock hypoallergenic cleaning products, amenity kits with hypoallergenic cosmetics products, and forgo using air freshener.
Hotels could also assign specific quiet and secluded rooms to accommodate families with autism. These rooms should not be placed over or under the restaurant or dining areas. They should be away from laundry rooms, elevators, the Executive lounge, vending machines, the pool, ice machines, banquet halls and hospitality suites where conferences are held. It would make sense for these rooms to be on a higher floor to ensure less noise from traffic and the lobby. Also, these rooms should not be in proximity to any gym or roof where A/C machines are placed.
Some children with autism try to escape when their parents are momentarily distracted. To mitigate this, hotels should offer stick-on motion detectors for doors and windows. These will alert parents if the child exits the room so they can respond accordingly. Within the room itself, providing dimming light switches would also be a wonderful accommodation for light-sensitive children with autism.
For properties wanting to go the extra mile, they can install better window insulation, such as dual pane. Hotels could also provide extra wall padding to minimize noise in the room. Minimizing noise will help everyone since some sounds that children with autism make can disturb others.
Many families with autism have difficulties occupying their kids. Because of this, it would be helpful if hotels increased the number of kid’s TV channels, offered iPad rentals, and installed more power outlets in the rooms.
Finally, to increase bathroom safety, hotels should provide non-slip mats and install hand-held shower heads. This will allow parents to better help kids who are not able to bath independently.
By making the stay of families who have children with autism easier and enjoyable, both hotels and guests benefit. Patrons will benefit by having an easy going, uneventful stay. Hotels will benefit by seeing more business from these patrons who keep them in mind for their next visit. The hotel industry should strongly consider most if not all listed changes to help every guest in the modern world.