Some families have extra needs to consider when booking their holidays. Samantha Mayling examines how to cater for those with autistic children.

Trying to find the right holiday for any family can be tricky, but for a child with autism, there are many more elements to consider.

More than one in 100 people are on the autism spectrum, which means about 700,000 people in the UK are autistic.

Tom Purser, National Autistic Society (NAS) head of campaigns, said awareness is rising and more UK venues are being certified by the NAS with an autism-friendly award – including airports such as Birmingham,  Bristol, Edinburgh and Gatwick.

No holiday companies have the award yet, although NAS recommends sources of information including Disabledholidays.com – a Worldchoice member.

In the UK, Disabledholidays.com recommends Butlin’s and Haven, while in Europe it recommends Disneyland Paris.

Gillian Moorhouse-Hoole, business development manager of Disabledholidays.com, advises agents to plan ahead with the family, sharing destination and accommodation pictures. “Discuss requirements thoroughly when booking,” she says. “Everybody’s needs can vary greatly.”

Purser urges agents to learn more about autism – the NAS website has links to training videos and information from bodies such as the CAA. “Think of the sensory environment – for example,” he says. “Is there a quiet room in a hotel away from the entertainment?”

Airports

With overseas holidays, navigating the airport is the first hurdle. In October 2018, Gatwick became the first UK airport to open a sensory room for passengers.

Sara Marchant, Gatwick’s accessibility manager, said: “Providers should ask customers if they require assistance at an early stage in the booking process.”

Gatwick and Tui have worked together on  autism open days, which help families explore the airport without the stress of flying. Tui’s customer welfare team can arrange assistance at the airport or suitable aircraft seats.

The operator can also create a “photo guide” so families know what to expect when they reach their hotel.

For overseas resorts, the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) trains staff and certifies hotels. Last month, Aquatica Orlando became the world’s first water park to be designated by IBCCES as a Certified Autism Centre (CAC). Sister park Sesame Place became the world’s first CAC theme park in April 2018.

Beaches Resorts also worked with IBCCES to offer autism-friendly facilities and its resorts feature a walkaround character, Julia, who is Sesame Street’s first autistic character.

Joel Ryan, entertainment and children activities group manager for parent company Sandals Resorts International, urges agents to make travel as simple as possible by booking direct flights and private transfers.

“Our pre-travel questionnaires can indicate where their child sits on the autism spectrum, any triggers, what keeps them calm, social or visual cues, their favourite activities and foods, and how well they can swim,” he added.

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