The National Autism Association Conference-Should You Go?

Our reader, Sarah Watson, couldn’t have chosen a better time to ask this month’s question since the National Autism Association Conference is right around the corner, and just like her, other parents are considering whether they should attend the conference or not.

Dear Margalit,

My name is Sarah Watson, and I’m a single mother living in Houston, Texas with my teen daughter. We don’t usually travel because my daughter has autism. My daughter suffers from high anxiety every time her daily routine is changed which makes traveling extremely challenging.
This month I was surprised when she asked me if we could attend the National Autism Association Conference in Florida. She heard about the Conference from a classmate whose family has been participating for a couple of years and told her it was fun.
I have looked at the conference website and mainly see it as a place to attend lectures about autism that I don’t think will be interesting to her. Also, the prices for the conference and hotel are pretty steep, so I’m confused whether it would be a place we’d even enjoy.
Have you ever attended the meeting?
What are your thoughts?

Hi Sarah,

Thank you for your question. In fact, you are the third person this month who has asked about the conference, so I guess it is slowly increasing in popularity. My family and I had the opportunity to attend last year’s conference and were very pleasantly surprised.
Here are my five reasons why.

The National Autism Association Conference-Should You Go sppech

Sound advice from experts

The conference provided an excellent chance to meet parents with kids on the spectrum, network and listen to informative lectures from highly regarded speakers in the autism community like the inspiring Temple Grandin and Chantal Sicile-Kira. The list of guest speakers changes every year so check who’s on the list this year.

The National Autism Association Conference-Should You Go chantal

Get informed about new products and services

In 2014, the year we went, the Exhibitor Hall was filled with companies presenting new products, services, and programs; some of which even I hadn’t heard about.
It was at the conference that our son was first introduced to ‘speed stacking’ and was totally captivated!
He was able to chat with peers and interact with them while practicing his stacking skills at the company’s booth.

The National Autism Association Conference-Should You Go merchandise


The atmosphere and parties

You not only get to meet other parents but get to party with them, and everyone is incredibly understanding and willing to listen to your story.
There’s a “meet and greet” the first day, and a beach party the third day followed by a Karaoke dance party in the lobby later that night.
If you can’t afford the beach party (it is a bit pricey) then you can still attend the Karaoke one in the lobby and dance the night away with your daughter by your side.
If she’s noise-sensitive, remember to bring a set of headphones to block some of the noise.

The National Autism Association Conference-Should You Go dancing

Discover Resources

What better place to find resources for autism than at a conference especially for autism.
The exhibitors have booths and stalls set up, and they display their wares from the first to the last day of the conference between certain hours.
You can pick up brochures advertising the latest innovations and therapies for people with autism, as well as books, toys, puzzles for all ages and difficulty levels; and even possibilities to apply for scholarships.

The National Autism Association Conference-Should You Go therapies

The Resort

The conference is held at the Tradewinds Resort in St Pete Beach, Florida, a beach resort that is incredibly autism-friendly.
The staff is excellent; helpful and totally non-judgmental when it comes to behaviors; since they are all trained to accommodate guests with autism. The resort offers multiple land and beach activities, but it depends on if the  November weather cooperates or not.
When warm; you will be able to enjoy the pools and beach, if cold and windy like it was when we attended, you need to look for alternative ways to entertain your child.
Guests can take free fishing lessons, play Ping-Pong or try the trampoline, right there on the premises. We took the time and visited the Dali museum downtown.

The National Autism Association Conference-Should You Go beach

In Summation

The conference is a perfect opportunity to introduce your child to the beach, have him or her experience new things and make some new friends in an autism-friendly atmosphere, especially if you don’t travel much.
In fact, when we attended we  got to chat with several parents that told us they’ve been coming to the NAAC on the yearly basis and that they considered the conference as their ‘annual vacation.’

Disclaimer: Special thanks to the NAAC that provided us with complimentary tickets for the review. However, the tips and opinions shared are always our own.

The National Autism Association Conference-Should You Go temple



The Autism Friendly Tradewinds Island Resort


The four-star Tradewinds  Island Resort famous for its motto ‘Just Let Go‘ is located in Saint Petersburg, Florida and features 585 rooms and suites.
The resort compiled of two sister hotels–the Guy Harvey Outpost and the Island Grand  Resort, overlooks the Gulf of Mexico and is feet away from the sandy beach.

The Autism Friendly Tradewinds Island Resort lake


The resort is quite family oriented, but couples and other groups of travelers will have a great time too.
As an autism- friendly hotel, this hotel has hosted the National Autism Annual Conference for several years and is a favorite with families with special needs kids.

The Autism Friendly Tradewinds Island Resort lobby


We stayed at the Tradewinds Island Grand Resort where a tropical vibe dominated the resort’s public areas with the design continuing in the guest rooms.

The Autism Friendly Tradewinds Island Resort buildings

Our Room

We stayed in the Breckenridge building that has the option of connecting rooms useful for travelers with larger families.
Our standard room (with free Wi-Fi), 5613 on the fifth floor, was spacious and comfortable with good view of the beach, property’s pools and the hotel’s giant inflatable water slide.

The first thing I noticed upon entering the room was the round dining table with four wooden chairs. The ample seating was a welcome touch since no one had to sit on the bed or the floor like in other hotel rooms we’ve stayed in in the past.

The room furniture was a pleasant mix of rosewood and rattan that gave it a neutral feel. Continuing the resort’s  island theme our room drapes, pillows, and chair cushions were decorated in muted orange and tan hues while the bed coverlets and carpet sported tropical patterns.

Our room boasted two queen sized beds separated by a nightstand that held a phone, alarm clock, a standing lamp and the TV remote. Across from the beds, there was a large flat screen television on top of a large dresser that contained a well-stocked mini bar, complete with a variety of drinks and snacks.

Tradewinds Island Resort: room

Furthermore, closet space was ample, and the two luggage racks supplied adequately held all of our suitcases.We were glad to discover the room safe was large enough to accommodate my laptop as well as several tablets.

We enjoyed the sitting area with the cozy chaise upholstered in a seashell pattern and a matching footrest, next to the window. A nearby wall outlet made it comfortable to sit and work on the laptop while watching the ocean waves. A decorative standing lamp and framed artwork complemented the room furnishings.

Our standard room had a kitchenette, which is useful for families needing to prepare or warm food during their stay. This well-equipped area included a microwave, a mini fridge, coffee pot, a toaster, dishes, glasses, silverware along with dishwashing soap and dish towels for easy clean-up.

The bathroom was on the small side but functional. It had the usual facilities; a commode, a sink, and a combination tub and shower with multilevel shelves for storing bath supplies.
An assortment of toiletry items and mini makeup mirror were standing on the granite countertop. It was disappointing to discover there was no hand held shower head, but we appreciated the powerful shower water pressure.
The Autism Friendly Tradewinds Island Resort bathroom


The Tradewinds Resort reception desk is open 24/7, and its employees have all undergone the specialized autism training awareness program by C.A.R.D.
We were impressed by the printed ‘social story’ booklet that the hotel is handing out to its guests with autism.
Visitors can also benefit from the top notch concierge service provided including a compiled list of attractions to visit with kids both indoor and outdoors around the resort area.

The Autism Friendly Tradewinds Island Resort pool


Along with its unbeatable location on the beach, the Tradewinds  Island Resort is famous for the plethora of family oriented seasonal activities offered.

The Autism Friendly Tradewinds Island Resort slide

Aside from five pools and two whirlpools, the resort offers multiple complimentary events for families like fishing lessons, poolside movie nights and pirate bonfire parties.

The Autism Friendly Tradewinds Resort trapeze

Hotel guests can enjoy water-based outdoor activities like parasailing, pedal boats, stand up paddle boats and land-based sports like volleyball, mini golfing, ping pong, and tennis for a charge.

The Autism Friendly Tradewinds Island Resort boats
Thrill-seeking travelers should give the trampoline, Gyrator, Jetlev or the ‘Rumfish’s ‘  aquarium with tropical fish swim option, a try!
Our son loved the high tide 200 feet long water slide and was disappointed to hear he had missed the chance to see the resort’s complete inflatable waterpark; which is only available during the summer months.

The Autism Friendly Tradewinds Island Resort fire

Dining & Entertainment

The resort offers eleven dining options for families from fast food (Pizza Hut) to upscale venues like the ‘Palm Court’ Italian Grill,  ‘Bermuda’s’ for steaks and seafood and the ‘Rumfish Grill’ for fusion cuisine.
During our weekend stay, we sampled the ‘Palm Court’ Italian Grill one evening and the ‘RumFish Grill’ located on the resort’s sister property the following day.

Tradewinds Island Resort, Dining

We found the ‘RumFish,’ with its Guy Harvey art and the giant fish aquarium a more kid-friendly venue but slightly noisy for people with autism.
The resort also has several stores that sell snacks and some fast food items that can be taken back and consumed in the rooms.

Dining & Entertainment The Autism Friendly Tradewinds Island Resort

Autism Travel Tips

  • If your kid tends to wander away, remember to ask for the hotel’s “Safety Kit” that includes a hanging door alarm!
  • Our room included the appropriate grab bar and bath mat for the shower and safety locks for the window.
  • All the resort food venues have gluten free options that are helpful for travelers with gluten allergies.
  • The resort kids club has unique sensory activities geared for children with autism – parents should call in advance and make the appropriate arrangements.
  • Parents need to be aware the resort does NOT provide lifeguards for the pools.
  • Families traveling with service dogs should know that The Island Grand has several pet-friendly rooms and a secure Pet Play Zone.

 The Autism Friendly Tradewinds Island Resort sunset

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