Top Boston Travel Suggestions for Children with Autism

Boston is one of our favorite cities to visit in the US.
It is very autism and family friendly with many activities that are sure to engage and please kids and adults.
For those who have not visited Boston yet, here are our top suggestions to try.

Take the water shuttle

The most economical way to see Boston is to take the MBTA Harbor ferry from the Aquarium Long Wharf to the Charlestown Navy Yard and back.
The Ferry runs every 15 minutes and gives you an excellent view of the city not unlike a harbor cruise.
For many travelers unaccustomed to water travel, as well as children with autism that love the repetitive activity, it can provide a real adventure.

 Promote map reading skills for the subway 

The Red and Green lines are most useful for seeing the sights while the Blue and Silver are useful for getting to and from the airport.
Boston boasts the Tremont Street Subway – the first active subway in the States that started operating last century.
For travelers with autism, this is an excellent opportunity to learn and practice reading maps and coordinate multiple means of transportation such as buses, ferries, and subways to get to the required destination.

Boston - Top Ten Tourism Suggestions for Children with Autism sea

 Walk the U.S freedom trail and relive history

Check out the NPS free tour by following the red brick road!
Many kids with autism will enjoy seeing the historical Revolution places up close and personal instead of merely reading about them in school books.
Start with Paul Revere’s family home built around 1680 that qualifies as one of oldest buildings in downtown Boston.
It served as a dwelling to Boston’s pre-revolution silversmith who became famous for his “midnight ride” to Lexington, Massachusetts informing Samuel Adams and John Hancock that the British were coming to arrest them.
Continue to the Old North Church famous for the evening of April 18, 1775, when the church sexton, Robert Newman, climbed the steeple and held high two lanterns as a signal, after being informed by Paul Revere that the British were marching to Lexington and Concord by sea and not by land.

Next visit the Old South Meeting House best known as the site where the Boston Tea Party began in the winter of 1773. Envision Samuel Adams announcing, “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country!” and loads of protesters dumping three shiploads of tea into Boston Harbor.
Culminate the historical adventure at the King’s Chapel, and Granary Burying Grounds.
The grounds as the name suggests were used for grain storage but later became a cemetery for many famous clergymen and politicians like Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Robert Treat Paine.
An interesting fact to know about the Granary Grounds is that although over 5000 people are buried there, there are less than 2000 headstones since in many cases families used a single one headstone for several family members to override the high costs.On select

On select dates, volunteers dress up as historical characters and speak to visitors ‘in character.’ For details, guests should contact the National Park to find out more information about their Revolution reenactment dates.

 Relax in the Commons and make room for ducklings

The fifty acres Boston Commons is the oldest park in the country.
In the past, the park was used for many purposes ranging from cattle grazing, public hangings to historical speeches. Nowadays it serves as a recreational heaven.
The park is one of these multi-sensory places where visitors with autism can enjoy and create memories.
Kids can climb Nancy Schon’s statues of Mother Duck and her ducklings traveling to their new home on a lagoon island in Boston’s Public Garden after reading or the book by Robert McCloskey,(makes a great souvenir), or just run around the grounds.

Another Bostonian staple is riding the park’s Swan Boats.
Inspired by Wagner’s opera Lohengrin in which a knight of the Holy Grail crosses a river in a swan-drawn boat to defend the innocence of his heroine, Princess Elsa.
The park ride, originally introduced by Robert Paget as a foot-propelled catamaran in the shape of a swan could carry eight visitors. The current boats are replicas of the originals, but are more spacious with five or six benches, carrying up to 20 passengers.

Have a beer or burger where everyone knows your name

The actual bar that inspired the famous TV show, Cheers, formerly known as Bull and Finch Pub, is located on Beacon Hill across from the Swan boats and the public garden.
A second location of the bar,  in the renovated Faneuil  Hall, features a replica of the TV show bar interior.
For travelers with autism that enjoy TV trivia or huge burgers like ‘the NORM’, it is the perfect place to eat, look around and buy souvenirs!

 Have Pizza at Regina’s North End – the Original Boston

The evening that we visited, the line was around the block, and locals assured us it was a slow night!

Apparently, even law enforcement officers and first responders frequent the place and don’t hesitate to park haphazardly on the street to get their coveted slice. We found the servers and cooks very friendly, and grateful they even took our kids for a ‘behind the scenes’ kitchen view!

Boston - Top Ten Tourism Suggestions for Children with Autism swans

 Have chocolate cannoli

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli!” Peter Clemenz says to Rocco, in The Godfather, after killing Paulie in the car.

The Modern Pastry Shop on 257 Hanover Street is mentioned on many travel sites, including Tripadvisor and Yelp as the best, and rightfully so.
This place, too, has a huge line to walk through until you get inside to choose a cannoli.
What we liked less was that once we finally got to the counter to order, we were somewhat rushed into making a decision .We understood the servers at the cash register wanted to help as many customers as possible, but our son with autism found it a bit daunting.

With that said, this bakery makes the most incredible chocolate and ricotta filled cannoli you can imagine. In fact; our kids were very disappointed to find out that they couldn’t find any similar ones during our cruise around  Italy the following year!

Turns out, the Italians do make fabulous cannoli, but they don’t use chocolate in any of their recipes; So, the chocolate cannoli is a Bostonian spin on the original concept.

 Catch a free Boston Pops Orchestra concert 

Best known for its July 4th extravaganzas, the BPO was founded in 1885 as a summer alternative of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
The Orchestra that achieved world fame under Arthur Fiedler, its long-time director specializes in performing popular and light classical music in casual settings at Symphony Hall, and outdoors at the Hatch Shell.
Our son with autism enjoyed the concert so much that he forgot to complain about sitting on the grass and being surrounded by bugs, a rare occurrence in his case!

 Gaze at the skyline or catch a sunset

You cannot leave Boston without taking a step back and enjoying the skyline.
Consider staying in a hotel like the Hyatt or the Marriott on the city wharf.
We stayed at the Hyatt that has excellent grounds, including a paved veranda that overlooks the harbor, where kids loved running around. On late afternoons and early evenings, we pulled up lounge chairs and just gawked at the beautiful sunsets!

 

Tips for Successful Family Reunions with Autism

The summer vacation is here and with it, invitations to family gatherings and reunions.
For many of us, family gatherings mean happy celebrations and the creation of beautiful memories but for families with autism, they can spell meltdowns and stress.
Since several parents have asked me for tips to help their kids with autism attend family reunions, I decided to compile a short list of the ten best for parents to bookmark, save and share with others.

 

Tips for Successful Family Reunions with Autism family

Introduce your family

Take the time to sit with your kid and introduce him/her to the people they would be meeting at the reunion.
Sharing old family photographs and family stories ( though not the embarrassing ones as they might mention those at inappropriate moments) is a fun and easy way to engage kids of all ages.

Choose appropriate accommodations

If your child is noise sensitive, resist the temptation to stay in jam -packed homes of relatives hosting multiple visiting family members and try to find one who can offer you a spare bedroom and quieter environment.
A better solution if you can afford it is to stay at a nearby hotel where you and your family can relax and get away from all the excitement.

Recognize limitations

You should scrutinize the reunion itinerary and find ways to adapt it to your child’s schedule and ability.
Sometimes it is better to have your child skip events you think they won’t be able to handle than deal with public meltdowns when they are exhausted for the day or experiencing sensory overload.

Get additional help

Don’t be embarrassed about asking other family members, friends or even hiring someone to help with your child while you are attending events so you too, can have a good time.

Promote  family bonding

Invite one or two favorite family members to join you on a daily fun outing to a park, movie theater or even a fast-food joint to help your child get to know them better and eventually feel more comfortable during family gatherings.

Bring  your entertainment

Pack toys, games, and electronics that can occupy your child not only on the way to the reunion but during some of the events. If you decide to bring electronic devices, consider investing in an extra recharge cord and an extended life battery in case you forget to recharge the tablet overnight or lose the cable.

 

Clarify  your food options

If your child is a picky eater or on a special diet, make sure you know what the food options are ahead of time and prepare accordingly. In the event lunch or dinner is planned at a family member’s home; let the host know what your child’s allergies and dislikes are.
If restaurant dining is planned-call the venue ahead or check their menu online to find out what dishes would be suitable for your kid.

Arrive a few days ahead

Start your vacation earlier and arrive at the destination, at least, a day even two ahead as many people with autism need extra time to ‘settle in’ and get accustomed to new surroundings.

Forget the dress code

Forcing your kid to wear formal clothes or the customary reunion T-shirt for several hours just to take that family portrait might sound good in theory but might easily trigger behavioral problems in reality.
If your kid suffers from sensory issues letting them wear what they find most comfortable even if it somewhat torn or stained might be the wise way to go.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

Remember nothing’s perfect so no matter how much you’ll plan small incidents might still happen -do your best to relax and enjoy this is a special time with your extended family.

Have you taken your child with autism to a family reunion? Share your story and

Share your story and tips.

 

 

Q&A with Dr Stephen Mark Shore- Autism Advocate


Dr. Stephen Mark Shore was a typically developing child until around 18 months old, when he was, in his words,“ hit with the autism bomb”.
He became nonverbal, but due to the early intervention by his parents, his speech ability began to return at the age of four.
Refuting the doctors recommendations for institutionalization, his parents continued their intervention to help their son in his schooling and life.
Nowadays, Stephen is an internationally renowned author, an Autism and Asperger Syndrome advocate, and a professor of Special Education at Adelphi University.
I recently had the honor of interviewing Dr. Shore about his travel experiences.

 

Q&A with Dr Stephen Mark Shore- Autism Advocate and Author japan

How do you prepare for a trip to a place you have never been before?

I get my trip arrangements made well in advance, and I try, as much as possible, to plan ahead to avoid extra layers of hassle that might arise.Since most of my travels are business related (conferences and speaking engagements), I will ask the organizers for someone to pick me at the airport and drive me to the hotel, so I don’t get lost. Sometimes you need to advocate for yourself and ask for that extra help.

For example, when I went to Paris to speak at a conference, the organizers suggested I take the subway. I knew it would was noisy and a sensory overload. Additionally, since I did not know French, there was a high probability of getting lost.Therefore, I requested my hosts to provide transportation (or, at least, send someone to go with me on the subway if need to be).

Staying within my comfort zone is important to me, so I try to prepare for transitions by researching visual aids, like videos, on the Internet. I found that especially important for countries where the food and atmosphere are so odoriferous and different like Thailand or India.

Most of all, I know my limitations, and if I do need help I will ask for it!

What are your preferred methods of transportation?

I’ve tried many different types of transportation depending on where I’m going. Trains are excellent as they provide more space and legroom. They don’t require any seat belts, and there is no restriction on when you can get up and stretch, which is always a major plus for me.

I do drive occasionally, but never internationally. Unfortunately, renting a car while you travel comes with two additional layers of uncertainty –when you rent the car as well as when you return it.There is also added unpredictability with road conditions where the car can break down, and that you can get still lost even with a GPS system.
I also have to say I do like cruises as an option since, in addition to providing comfortable transportation, there are additional fun activities to help occupy your time while you travel.

Q&A with Dr Stephen Mark Shore- Autism Advocate and Author parrots

 What is your packing philosophy – over pack or under pack?

I would call myself an under packer.  I like traveling light with only carry-on. I don’t want to deal with lost luggage or have to wait extra time around the conveyor belt especially after long haul flights. I agree to travel with carry-on luggage does have its limitations, so I have my “bag of tricks” for how to bring on stuff I need and somewhat bypass weight limitations.

My two favorite tricks are putting items I need for my flight (like a jacket, book, drink, and snack) in a separate plastic bag and wearing a Scottevest that has multiple pockets to carry electronics and extra stuff. Sometimes I take an extra backpack that I can later pack in my carry-on. I’ve also learned to leave certain things like heavy shoes at home and take lighter substitutes like sandals most of the time.

What is the one electronic device you refuse to travel without?

I travel with multiple electronics, all of which I use. Nowadays I use an iPhone since it can multitask, and a laptop for my work.

The one place on a plane you won’t sit in?

I avoid the very back next to the toilets, where it smells and passengers either leans on your seat or bump into you while waiting their turn.

What is your favorite pastime on the plane?

I don’t have a favorite pastime per se. I do the usual mix of reading working and watching movies.

Q&A with Dr Stephen Mark Shore- Autism Advocate and Author australia

 

Which hotel amenities do you look for when making your lodging arrangement?

There are distinct features I always look for. A non-smoking room is important, as, outside the U.S., many properties still permit rooms smoking. Abroad, that sometimes means they just aired the room after the previous occupant smoked in there. Noise can also be an issue – anything from elevators, a wall unit A/C or even a refrigerator can bother may be people with autism, so noise proof walls are a plus.As a frequent traveler, I also appreciate properties that offer chemical free rooms, decent water pressure, and soft bedding.

If money was no object, what would be your top criteria for selecting a hotel at a destination?

It would depend on if I were looking for a boutique or chain hotel. I would get one close to the attractions or landmarks. Another feature I look for is for hotels to be close to outside food venues, so you don’t depend on pricey hotel restaurants or cabs to go anywhere.

Many hotel chains are now trying to cater to travelers with autism. What would be your tips to make their properties more “autism friendly”?

One of the most overlooked things is the cleaning process, which usually involves powerful chemicals. An autistic room should be cleaned with chemical-free products to minimize allergies, and have soft bedding, noise proof walls, and is away from the elevators.Many travelers with autism now use iPads and other electronic devices, so several outlets in the room are useful.

How has traveling made a difference in your life?

 It made me more aware of cultural differences. I try to promote autism awareness and get in contact with different autism organizations worldwide wherever I go.
One of the things I like to do, especially on Friday night is look up the local Habad House in the various countries and attend their Friday night services. That gives me a sense of familiarity and belonging to the community.

Q&A with Dr Stephen Mark Shore- Autism Advocate and Author chabad

 Why would you recommend traveling with a child on the autism spectrum in spite the challenges?

 I think it is important for kids with autism to be exposed to as many different situations as possible, so travel is an important tool Parents can use to educate their children. However, I would like to advise them to plan their trips in detail and allow adequate transition periods between activities to avoid sensory overloads and possible meltdowns.

 

 

 

Q&A with Karen Bower of ‘Railman’ Blog

Our guest this month is Karen Bower from the UK.
Karen is an industrial chemist by background, married and busy stay at home mom to Harry and Imogen and steps mom to Hannah and Issy.

When did you start traveling with your kids?

We began quite early; Harry was two, and a half and Imogen was barely eight months.

What was your first trip?

Our first adventure was to EuroDisney.
In hindsight, I already knew that Harry was not neurotypical.
Even though I couldn’t articulate it at the time, travelling with Harry and Imogen was such an enjoyable experience.
There were no meltdowns. No tantrums. No screaming fits because we’d done something terrible like turned right instead of left!
However, the first time where I understood that I could use trains to connect with Harry and facilitate his learning was during our Lands End to John O’Groats  trip in 2012.

Q&A with Karen Bower of 'Railman' Blog chair

What is your favourite type of trip?

For us, sleeper trains work brilliantly.
The children sleep very well on trains, and Harry adores both waking up in a train station and also being somewhere new. For Harry, the thrill is traveling, and I like the fact that sleeper trains provide time to explore our destination.
I tend to do quite a bit of research on our destinations and will have a planned activity – to see a zoo or a park or a museum and, again, that seems to work for us. I try to make sure that we do something relevant to the city we are in and also something the children haven’t done before. While in America, we will take a tour of the White House, see whales and even take a tour of a submarine.

Q&A with Karen Bower of 'Railman' Blog SIGN

Do your kids enjoy trying new dishes?

Um, no!!
Food is a massive issue.
Harry will only eat a very limited number of foods. His first line of taste buds, I am sure, are in his fingers. Food is rejected for a vast number of issues. Too hot, too cold, too hard, too soft or simply (his favourite excuse!) too yucky.
I bring pre-packed pureed fruit with me. Buying it en route is not acceptable to Harry, it must the brand he likes otherwise he won’t touch it.
Other than that, Harry can survive solely on bread, pasta, pizza and diet coke!!

Q&A with Karen Bower of 'Railman' Blog HARRY

What made you plan your long train trip?

This trip comes at a special moment for our family.
It is the last summer where all the kids are at home. Or, more accurately, on the road. And it is the first summer when we aren’t scared of autism.
Plus there is the flight issue. The one part of the trip which will be stressful will be the flight so it made sense that, once we were out there, we might as well stay for the summer!

Who is going on that trip?

I will be taking Hannah (18), Issy (15), Harry (5) and Imogen (4)  to NYC, Washington and Denver.
My husband Richard will join us in San Francisco. Then, Richard will take the elder girls to Las Vegas while I will be head to Canada with the little ones.

Q&A with Karen Bower of 'Railman' Blog SKI

Do you make your travel arrangements?

We have used Ted Blishak, who has recommended suitable layovers and hotels and made sure we have the right tickets and documentation, like a letter of authority for Issy, who is a minor and for whom I do not have parental responsibility.

Do you typically ask for special accommodations anywhere?

Only on the plane.
I have informed them of Harry’s disability so that we can get bulkhead seats (at least for myself and Harry.) This is because Harry WILL kick the seat in front of him and any attempt to stop him will increase his stress making it even more likely he will kick the seat in front of him!

Q&A with Karen Bower of 'Railman' Blog SAIL

How do you travel- light or with everything but the kitchen sink?

I’d like to answer light, but I have a feeling Hannah and Issy won’t agree.
One thing that I am clear on, though:  ‘If  YOU want to bring it, YOU have to carry it !’

What items do you pack to entertain your kids on the long train rides?

I-pads!
I understand that there is an enormous debate over whether children should be allowed to have I-pads, but honestly, I couldn’t rate them more highly.
If there is one benefit of having a child with autism, it’s that debates like this no longer apply to me. I do what is right for my family.

How are you preparing your kids for the trip?

We talk a lot about the places we will be visiting and what we will be doing in each city.
I try to make it relevant to the movies they watch.
So, when we visit  New York, we won’t be touring Central Park Zoo but the Madagascar zoo!!

Q&A with Karen Bower of 'Railman' Blog TRAIN

Have you sorted out the travel logistics yet-laundry, food, places to see?

We have a reasonable plan.
We will buy clothes as souvenirs on the way.
When Richard flies out, he will bring extra food for Harry and take home any souvenirs we’ve accumulated but don’t want to take with us.

Will anyone else be joining to help you on the way?

Because the elder girls are flying home from Las Vegas, my sister is flying out to accompany us on the return flight.
During the trip, I need someone to care for Imogen as Harry will need my absolute attention.

Q&A with Karen Bower of 'Railman' Blog BOAT

 What souvenirs will you be bringing home?


I’m planning to collect cloth patches and t-shirts from the various places we travel and then make them up into a throw which we can keep.
We will also take millions of photos, and I’ll make them up into a photo book when we get back.

Where do you see yourself travelling with your kids five years from now?

I don’t think I’ll ever put a timescale on it.
Much to my mother’s dismay, she never knows where we are going to go next!!
We will travel while it works for our family.I like to capitalise on Harry’s interests.And I find that the more we explore, the more things we find we want to do.
I’ve learned not to make assumptions when it comes to Harry.
I have started to plan a couple of adventures for later this year.
This Christmas, I’m planning to take the kids to Rovaniemi by train. We will take the sleeper from Helsinki. Personally, I think this is a much nicer way to meet Santa Claus – our very own real life Polar Express.
The only thing I know for sure is that we do what’s right for Harry and us as a family. Where ever and whatever that happens to be.

Q&A with Karen Bower of 'Railman' Blog BOY

 

 

Helping Hotels Become Autism Friendly

A Twitter friend asked me the other day, whether I knew if a particular hotel in London was ‘autism friendly.’
We had never stayed at this specific property, so I suggested she contacted the hotel directly and asked whether it could provide the accommodations she needed. I mentioned that based on our decade of travel that would be the best way to ensure a  stress-free stay.

But then it dawned on me–why are parents even struggling with these extra steps?
In today’s world with such a surge in the number of autism families ,hotels don’t need to wait to be asked by parents but should strive to become much more autism-friendly on their own.
In fact, a move like that by the leading chains is bound to lead to increased revenue and return business as well as revolutionize  the way the hospitality industry approaches the entire  autism community.

And, in most cases; becoming autism-friendly wouldn’t even involve spending money on remodeling rooms or gadgets but tweaking existing services in five simple steps.

 Helping hotels become Autism Friendly bed



Have special needs agents 

One of the reasons we love staying on Marriott’s properties is the fact the chain has designated special needs’ desk that helps travelers with specific accommodations,
It provides patrons with a one-stop solution eliminating the tedious job of repeating your list of accommodations to different staff members and can prove extremely useful for complex overseas itineraries that involve multiple stays in several countries.

Though this might not be a viable solution for the smaller hotels, it is a valuable marketing concept that medium to large hotel chains should consider copying.


Add website assistance

A feature I often use and wholeheartedly recommend is an online special request box ( like the one available on Priority Club’s website when booking online) where I can quickly mention my feather allergy and need for quiet and connecting rooms at booking.

Furthermore, it might be beneficial for hotels to designate a well trained customer-service person with some knowledge of autism to respond to any additional question via a link on their web page.
Remember: some parents might be more comfortable with sharing the information with one person than reiterating their child’s information to every hotel staff member they meet.

Mark particular rooms as quiet

Hotels are already required to tag some places as wheelchair user accessible to accommodate mobility disabilities so why not mark ‘quiet rooms to help the growing autistic travel community?
All the hotel needs to do is mark rooms that are away from noisy venues like lounges, elevators and vending machines as ‘quiet’ on their website for parents to choose from.In cities with busy traffic; rooms facing interior courtyards should also be recommended. for noise sensitive travelers

Get Staff trained 

Even though many parents don’t share their kids’ diagnosis -their particular needs might still surface in their requests and complaints, so appropriate autism staff training is essential.
Sometimes solutions to an issue are solved by ‘thinking outside the box’.
An example that comes to mind is the staffer at the J W Marriott Berlin hotel that noticed how my son was distraught after being told their restaurant was full, and he couldn’t dine there.

The front desk manager, single-handedly, put two lobby tables together, procured extra chairs and brought our ordered dishes from the restaurant to the lobby area so we could finally dine after arriving at the hotel from our long-haul flight.

Provide additional safety measures

Hotel officials should know that the number one travel concern of parents (especially of younger ones) is that their kids might open the room door and wander off unattended.
Some rooms may face a double whammy with a front as well as a balcony door accessible for children to open.
By providing inexpensive additional locks (placed higher up than usual) or mini dual contact noise sounding alarms on the room doors, hotels might not only be able to avoid a potential safety problem but provide parents with much-needed peace of mind.

Have you stayed at a hotel with your autistic child and received special accommodations -share  your experience with us.

 

 

Aluteva -Israel’s Hotel for Families with Autism

Q&A with Tal of Aluteva Israel's Special Hotel for Families with Autism houses

Many families with autism I’ve spoken to in the last year have expressed the wish to stay in autism-friendly hotels on their vacations. Although the main chains have made incredible strides in the last decade to accommodate the special needs community, some families still feel the need for hotels specializing specifically in autism.
I had the pleasure of speaking to Tal, the director of Aluteva Israel’s unique hotel for families with autism located near the Northern Israeli city of Karmiel that is maintained by the Israeli National Autism Association. (Alut)

  When did Alut come up with the concept of creating an autistic friendly lodging?

The idea started in 2003 when Alut personnel realized that many families didn’t feel comfortable staying in regular hotels because of safety and behavior concerns, but they still wanted to enjoy vacationing with their kids. We decided to create the first autistic-friendly family resort in Israel, and possibly the world.

How was the current location chosen and what special accommodations do you offer in Aluteva?

Q&A with Tal of Aluteva Israel's Special Hotel for Families with Autism inside

We were provided this area, it is surrounded by forest trees and use to be a training camp for pre-army teens, so the investment was minimal. It is close to Kfar haye-la-dim, the teen boarding school, as well as the town of Karmiel, in the Beit Hakerem Valley of the Galilee.

We are a no-frills facility with the goal of making our patrons comfortable, especially the lower functioning crowd with more challenging behaviors. We currently have seven suites with two rooms and bathroom, and each is fully equipped with a mini kitchenette and microwave fridge, air-conditioning, and satellite TV.The units share an enormous yard with a fenced in playground and grassy area with benches, and during summer, we have an operating swimming pool. What makes us unique is our sensory room, fully equipped with ball pools and air mattresses, and a white therapy room with lights and soothing music to help the kids.We also offer a coffee place for families to meet and enjoy watching a movie, as well as a babysitting club to watch the kids while the parents relax.
We offer a full kosher dairy and vegetarian breakfast, warm meals you can pre-order, and packed lunches or sandwiches for day trips. Since we have refrigerators and microwaves in the rooms, families can also bring more particular food or bring in food from nearby eateries

Q&A with Tal of Aluteva Israel's Special Hotel for Families with Autism sensory room

What activities do you currently offer?

Well, for the families who just want a quiet, peaceful vacation, the playground and swimming pool are a good start. We offer classes for parents and guest lectures, as well as storytelling and creativity classes for kids at different levels. Hiking, scootering, and visits to the nearby petting zoo are all offered. Touring the Galilee area is truly recommended for everyone wanting to explore historical areas, or families can just go shopping in the Akko Shouk. It’s up to the individual family.

 

Any plans to open additional centers?

I’m afraid not at present since this center is still not entirely sustainable to cater solely to autistic families. It doubles as an afternoon community center and a hostel for hikers in the area. To offset our costs, the hotel functions as an afternoon center for school kids and as a hotel for other paying guests. We are hopeful that, in the future, our model will become more financially independent and will be adopted in other countries.


Hotel with the heart of Gold-David Intercontinental Tel Aviv

Hotel with the heart of Gold-David Intercontinental Tel Aviv city view

During Jeffrey’s and my stay at the Intercontinental David in Tel-Aviv last month, I was enthralled by the heightened autism awareness the staff practiced towards us and gave my glowing review to the front door manager.

He smiled, telling me that the hotel management staff is involved in community service efforts, spearheading efforts to help underfunded projects in the Tel Aviv area. The next day, he arranged an interview for me with two out of the three ladies involved with these projects: Sigal Cohen-Tzedek- Gazal assistant director of human resources/training and Livnat Nahmias Benisho, assistant training and development manager as well as corporate responsibility manager over morning coffee.

 

How did your work on these projects begin?

When this hotel was built the management decided that it would be an integral part of the community and not just a hotel. We wanted the name Intercontinental to mean something to our neighbors and residents of Tel Aviv beyond the tag of a luxury hotel. Being located in the heart of the city we could see the need to get involved in projects to help the ones that need our help. However we don’t just stop by a place, make a donation, and leave; our staff tries to help implement much-needed core values in struggling ventures around the city. To encourage our employees  to participate in community service projects, we treat them with respect, dignity, support (like sending food home on sick days), and recompense (paying regular salary on days they participate.)

Hotel with the heart of Gold-David Intercontinental Tel Aviv lobby

So, which program started it all?

The program that catalyzed it all was our first community outreach project with a Jaffa-based rehabilitation school for disabled and economically disadvantaged teenagers.

Our plan was to introduce them to vocational skills—working in a restaurant kitchen—that could benefit their career choices later in life. Every September we interview applicant teenagers and select seven to eight people to complete the year-long program. In it, we first start off by teaching them basic kitchen safety, leading to cooking training, culminating in an official cook’s helper diploma from the Ministry of Labor.

The special-needs students are trained by the hotel staff and treated no differently than any other employee; they are required to show up for work daily and behave appropriately. However, if they face any problem or difficulty in their studies, they may come to us for help and advice—we act as the “support” system.

After completing the year, many are directly hired to work for the hotel (some find employment elsewhere) The most significant gain from this program is their demonstration as capable and qualified individuals who can find work and make a decent living.

We believe our program to be a huge success, with over 95% of students completing it. Our “secret” to achieving this success is what I referred to earlier: treating each student with the same respect and dignity we expect to be given. To us, these students are more than labels; they are our students and possibly future employees.

By guiding and teaching these teenagers to the best of our abilities, we never have to lower our work expectations; in reality, most students flourish with our guidance and care, exceeding our goals significantly. One of the many success stories that come to mind is that of a non-verbal student; even without any social skills, he completed the program and now is successfully employed in a Tel Aviv pastry shop.
Our hotel itself is currently hiring five program graduates, with many more hopefully to come.

What are your other programs?Hotel with the heart of Gold-David Intercontinental Tel Aviv hamsa

.We are involved with a couple of schools in Tel Aviv. For instance, we have worked with Rogozin Elementary where many kids come from incredibly low socioeconomic status, some even being illegal immigrants.

Our first encounter with them was when the school reached out to us and asked for a contribution of 50 sandwiches for their students. We were so enthralled by the offer that one of our staff members decided to take it upon herself to make them all at home.
Since then, the program has expanded, and our hotel now donates much-needed lunches and even brings the students to tour the hotel once a year.

At Ort Geula we’ve adopted the special needs class, offering them opportunities to visit the hotel, exhibiting their art photography work in our lobby, and even hiring some eager participants for summer jobs.
After the devastating Carmel forest fire last year, our staff “adopted” a teen orphanage that had been destroyed by the fire, not only helping to rebuild it, but furnishing it with new beds, desks, and other badly needed objects. Also, during the last Tu’Bishvat celebrations, we organized a “day of fun” for the orphans at the Rupin College, where hundreds of our employees participated as volunteers (but also received a paid salary day). Lastly, our hotel is also involved in “green” projects, such as recycling kitchen oil and glass, and cleaning the beaches we all love.


Hotel with the heart of Gold-David Intercontinental Tel Aviv ceramics
You mention the hotel features a monthly program at the hotel that guests can participate in?

Yes, this month’s project is sponsored by the “Make a Wish” foundation.
Every guest in our hotel will receive a small card documenting the foundation’s stories and a unique coin on their pillow, a bedtime story of sorts.
We are grateful for participation at any level from our patrons, and no donation is too small. We hope this drive will be a great success, so we can repeat it in August—when our hotel is booked at full capacity.
Before this endeavor, we had very successful donation drives in which we gave our patron guests art figurines from the special needs organizations Akim, Aleut (for Autism) and Beit Miriam.

Although we are very proud of our initiatives and would love to see other hotels copy our concepts, we have never pursued fame or even acknowledgment for what we do. Many years ago, we decided that a hotel, being a microcosm of cultures, should always be an active participant in its environment, ours being no exception.

 

Four Easy Ways to Make Hotel Stays More Pleasant

The adage goes: “There is always room for improvement” and that applies to the travel industry as a whole and the hotel industry in particular.
After a decade of travel and hundreds of hotel stays, here is our list of the changes we’d like to see in hotels.
We’re hopeful that hotel chains and owners will find our suggestions useful and strive to implement them sooner than later. 

Four easy ways to make hotel stays more pleasant-apple farm room

 

Trash cans

We’d  love for hotels to stock rooms with decent sized trash cans for a change so we won’t have to call housekeeping and ask for multiple bins or additional trash bags during our stays.
The souvenir packaging, packing materials, tickets, brochures, and odd food wrapping that end up thrown out by travelers add up and never fit into the small bins supplied. As a result, the resulting rubbish is often strewn all over the room and bathroom floors.
Our autism angle: If your kid is anything like ours who likes to collect every napkin, pamphlet, and ribbon bows then you totally understand our request for additional trash cans.

Brochures and Reading Materials

Like many fellow travelers, we enjoy reading the hotel-provided books, brochure, and papers, but we dislike bumping into the haphazardly placed ones gracing every possible surface space in the room.
Why not take a page from doctor’s offices and have a particular area for them—a side table or, even better, a wall display?
If implemented, any interested patron could easily glance at the various magazines, and accidental spills and greasy fingers would not ruin them.
And to make sure they are germ-free; laminating them would be a terrific idea that in time might also prove to be cost efficient!
Our autism angle: Our son LOVES  anything pamphlets, continuously puts his hand in his mouth and chews on multiple items, so laminated pages one can wipe clean would get our vote.

Bathroom shelves, drawers, hooks and towel racks

An ever-present yet irksome sight in hotels all over is the lack of adequate storage space.Let’s face it many bathroom counter tops are designed for beauty, not for function.
With the small area given, the average hotel countertop usually cannot accommodate the extra towels, medicines, toiletries, and sometimes even dry clothes (for stepping out of the shower) that are part of every savvy traveler’s bathroom.
As such, our question is: why do hotels have to skim costs and create such a small space, devoid of hooks or additional room?
Minimalism is cute for aesthetics, not for convenience so if the property’s bathrooms provide little counter space, then the least management can do is add a few hooks or inexpensive shelves to accommodate travelers’ needs.
Our autism angle: We travel with a copious amount of meds and items, so more storage space is a priority for us.

24-hour  availability of staple items

In today’s three-ounce-bottle-restricted world, many travelers deplete their packed supply rather quickly while others might forget the essentials altogether.
A vending machine stocked with all the basic toiletries (like deodorant, toothbrushes and paste, and over-the-counter medications) and available 24 hours a day, would come in so handy for those traveling internationally as well as domestically.
Instead of a vending machine that would allow access to the merchandise, the property can have several staple items available for purchase at the front desk with additional choices in their hotel store.
Our autism angle: With the 9/11  restrictions we run out of toothpaste, soaps and shampoos extraordinarily fast so being able to replenish supplies quickly is a useful option.

 

Have you encountered any  ‘issue’ with your hotel room during your stays you’d like to see changed?
Share your thoughts with us!


The Family Friendly David Intercontinental Tel Aviv

Location

The Family Friendly David Intercontinental Hotel ‘s location is ideal for most travelers seeking to explore the different aspects of Tel Aviv life. It not only faces a pristine Mediterranean beach and city park that appeal to beachgoers but borders the famous bohemian neighborhood of Neve Tzedek and the revived charming old railway station ‘Hatachana With its unique boutiques and nouvelle cuisine eateries.

For those interested in architecture, the hotel is but a short distance away from the colorful Carmel produce market, the UNESCO declared ‘White City’ zone of preserved Bauhaus buildings as well as the picturesque town of Jaffa.

 

The Family Friendly David Intercontinental Tel Aviv palms
View from the hotel-Hassan Beck Mosque and Shalom Tower that was Tel Aviv’s first department store
The Family Friendly David Intercontinental Tel Aviv street
Old Jaffa ‘s main thoroughfare -the Clock Tower  and old Ottoman police station
The Family Friendly David Intercontinental Tel Aviv carmel market
Tel Aviv’s outdoor colorful produce  Carmel market


Rooms

The rooms are spacious and tastefully decorated in neutral tones of creams, browns, and pale greens. Our room boasted two incredibly comfortable beds (a hotel associate told me that they change their mattresses on a yearly basis), a separate sitting area, flat screen TV, and small refrigerator.

The bathroom tiled in light marble colors offered the usual tub/shower combo with the specialized top of the line massage shower heads, much to Jeff’s delight. The amenities’ kit replenished on a daily basis featured famous Dead Sea products.

 

The Family Friendly David Intercontinental Tel Aviv beds
Our room on the 13th floor
The Family Friendly David Intercontinental Tel Aviv view
View of the beach from our 13th floor room window


Did I mention the top notch service?

Our room had been ready and waiting for us even though we arrived quite early in the morning, and the official check-in was several hours away. During our check-in, the front desk person not only made a point of verifying all our special requests were met before sending us to our assigned room but called the room later to ask whether we needed anything else.

The servers in the breakfast buffet area as well as in the executive lounge made a point to come and greet us daily as well as remember our names and our drink preferences.There was even the incredible gesture of a watchful restaurant server who upon noticed my autistic son struggling to pit the olives on his plate, went back to the kitchen and returned within minutes with a plate full of already pitted olives.This hotel also has one of the most meticulous housekeeping department.

I had come across in my many years of traveling When we entered the room the two beds were placed together to form a queen-sized bed, so we asked the housekeeping to send someone to separate them.They showed up within five minutes and completed the task. Two minutes later a knock on the door surprised me. When I asked who it was, and they answered housekeeping, I replied to the matter had already been resolved.

However, to my surprise the person knocking was the room maid who had come to re-vacuum that small carpet area that was now uncovered between the two beds!I found the hotel’s staff to be highly professional, helpful, well trained and eager to please across the board but what truly set them apart from another hotel personnel we’ve encountered over the years during our travels is their high autism awareness and visible human compassion.


Food Venues

Although we did not get the chance to eat at the newly upgraded Aubergine Restaurant, we did enjoy our scrumptious daily breakfast at the Jaffa Court. The food quality and selection were impressive even though due to kosher laws no meat products were served. Jeff was happy to discover some new foods he hadn’t tasted before like the Israeli Tahini, white cheeses like ‘Tzfatit’ and ‘Labaneh’ as well as his favorite his eggplant salad, pickled herring, egg shakshouka and potato ‘burekas’.We also liked their newly designed Executive Lounge temporarily situated on the third floor by the pool.

The room design  with darker woods.,Granite counter tops, futuristic lighting and top to glass bottom windows showcasing the pool, and beachfront views was perfect for us. It had an excellent spread of finger foods and salads throughout the day accompanied by various complementary choices of juices, sodas, coffees and alcohol. Both our son, Jeff and I found it very relaxing to sit and read the newspapers or use the provided computers to check email after a tiring day of travel.
The Family Friendly David Intercontinental Tel Aviv executive lounge
David Intercontinental ‘s executive lounge beverage selection

 

The Family Friendly David Intercontinental Tel Aviv food
David Intercontinental executive lounge salad selection

 

Hotel Amenities

The public spaces have outstanding works by famous Israeli artists like Nahum Gutman on level three that enhance the architectural beauty of the building. Our son with autism loved the giant wall carpet adorning the restaurant area and was disappointed to hear they did not sell any replicas in their souvenir store.

The hotel has several shops on the lobby level selling the usual; sundries, trinkets, souvenirs, a clothing boutique, an upscale jewelry store, as well as some art galleries displaying current Israeli talent. The pool area and spa looked inviting, but we never got to try it out as we had a busy itinerary that week.
The Family Friendly David Intercontinental Tel Aviv lobby
Some of  the Gutman Wall hangings that Jeffrey wanted a replica of
The Family Friendly David Intercontinental Tel Aviv lobby seats
A view of the renovated Aubergine restaurant
The Family Friendly David Intercontinental Tel Aviv view lobby
David Intercontinental third floor coffee bar

Creating the Ideal Autistic Friendly Hotel Room

 

As Autism Awareness grows around the world and within the travel industry, many hotel managers have asked me for advice on how to make their establishment more autism-friendly. Although there is no exact formula to fit all families with autism, I’ve come up with some useful guidelines hotels can adopt to accommodate patrons with autism.

 

Creating the Ideal Autistic Friendly Hotel Room lima

 Must  Haves

  • Hotels should avoid putting families with autism in rooms with glass bathroom enclosures, balconies or windows that fully open since kids with autism tend to be more ‘accident prone’. If the property’s only option is balcony rooms, then a keyed lock should be installed to block the kid from leaving on the door.
    The same applies to any rooms with opening windows.Something that could be slightly annoying to the average person can be downright intolerable to a person with autism, so it is important to think about potential issues that can upset travelers with autism.
  • Many travelers with autism are sound sensitive so offer rooms away from elevators, swimming pools, sports courts, restaurants, casinos, service areas, laundry areas, noisy stairs, busy streets and even ice machines. Designate quiet rooms that face courtyards or gardens and are located at the end of corridors.  A sound machine can be beneficial to some kids with autism.
  • Some children with autism are temperature sensitive, so a room thermostat is almost a necessity! If the kid’s bed is too close to the chamber vent or window, adjust bed placement accordingly.For light, sensitive kids room darkening double curtains are useful. Remember to have a night light so the child can see their way to the bathroom at night when the room is dark.
  • To prevent injuries incurred from stimming or meltdowns injury bolting TV sets, wall pictures, and mirrors, as well as the removal of breakable decorations and lamps, is recommended.Living plants should be removed as younger kids might chew on leaves.

Creating the Ideal Autistic Friendly Hotel Room applefarm

Nice to have

  • The number one concern of parents, especially to children with autism that are nonverbal and wander off, is getting lost.Hotels can offer lanyards or plastic bracelets with the hotel address or a GPS device that can be rented by caregivers.
  • Hotels should offer parents the option to install additional temporary door and window alarms  (stick -on) that can alert parents if their kid leaves the room.
  • Many children on the spectrum take medicines and might be on specific diets, so a room refrigerator comes in handy for water, snacks and then some. Vending machines or a store selling snacks on the property is good too.
  • Offer at least one kids channel as part of the hotel’s TV lineup and provide parents with an easy way to block the porn channels  (if the hotel offers them). Some hotels offer  DVD players and DVDs, tablets and even laptops for rent.
  • Properties should have designated hypoallergenic rooms if at all possible since some kids with autism also suffer from allergies.
  • Children with autism can have problems washing themselves independently, so bathrooms with tub-shower combos that have the hand held shower heads are a good idea.
  • Some kids react adversely to florescent lighting so offering non-fluorescentlighting and dimmers can be helpful.
  • Provide a Concierge service that  helps parents pre-order items  like diapers and special diet foods and getting them delivered  directly to  the hotel  especially if they are  too heavy  or bulky to transport on flights
  • Designated sensory room or area with swings and rockers in the hotel where travelers on the autism spectrum can relax are good ideas to consider.
  • A vending machine with sundries items such as toothpaste, deodorant, and hand sanitizer in case parents forget to pack an essential item.Offering these items for free is even better!
  • Hotels should have a  social book with pictures and a map of the hotel to familiarize visitors with autism faster especially if the property is large.A printed page with the area’s info for parents detailing convenient places they need to know such as local parks, closest supermarket /drugstore and even the phone of the local pediatrician.
  • Perfect for a Layover- the Frankfurt Sheraton Towers Hotel

 

 

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