As a parent of a child with sensory or social communication difficulties, it can be overwhelming to search for appropriate and welcoming destinations for a family vacation catered to those with mild to severe sensory processing challenges, including those with ASD and SPD. According to a study conducted by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), a whopping 89% of families are unsatisfied with travel options available to children with autism. Everyone deserves time to enjoy a getaway from your daily routine; however, planning and prepa
ring can take a lot of time, so here are some highly recommended travel destinations:
- Aquatica (Orlando, FL)
As the first IBCCES certified waterpark in the world, Aquatica: Orlando, FL includes sandy beaches, water play areas, and up-close animal encounters. A day-trip filled with splashing and rides galore, Aquatica provides a Sensory Guide to help families plan which amenities would be most enjoyable and stimulating for their kiddos. For example, inside, you will find that the Taumata Racer is a high-speed mat ride that is very low stimulating for taste, sound, and smell, but somewhat stimulating for sight and touch due to bright colors, other racers, and fast speeds. If your child gets overstimulated, you can find the quiet room for privacy located near Kata’s Kookaburra Cove.
- Discovery Cove (Orlando, FL)
Also IBCCES certified, Discovery Cove is named the first all-inclusive day resort and animal interaction park in the United States. Part of the Seaworld monopoly, Discovery Cove provides opportunities to snorkel with thousands of tropical fish, rays, and other marine animals. These one-of-a-kind attractions within the Grand Reef, Conservation Cabana, etc. are filled with various sensory-stimulating experiences. Check the Sensory Guide to determine which experiences seem most appropriate for you and your family. A new quiet space has also recently been added, located near the first aid unit, for individuals to take a break in a secluded and low-noise area. Dining at Discovery Cove is a breeze, as it includes accommodations for all dietary needs and preferences: just request to speak to a supervisor or chef to discuss allergies and restrictions.
- Beaches Resorts (Negril, Ochos Rios, and Turks and Caicos)
These all-inclusive resorts are found in Negril, Ocho Rios, and Turks and Caicos. Each luxury resort has on-site kids’ camps that are IBCCES certified as Advanced Certified Autism Centers, meaning that staff members have undergone rigorous training to ensure the best quality of service for your children. In addition to the beautiful beaches, families can experience meet and greets with Sesame Street characters and enjoy water sports. There’s even the chance to meet Julia, the first Muppets character with autism. One exceptional feature appreciated by families are the dining centers that have a multitude of custom dining choices to accommodate various diets, taste, and sensory aversions.
- Franklyn D. Resort and Spa (Runaway Bay, Jamaica)
Balanced family and “me” time? Look no more. The Franklyn D. Resort and Spa is a quaint and cozy resort that can be your home during your perfect family getaway. The Vacation Nanny service is “without parallel”, as one nanny is assigned to your family, free of charge, for the duration of your stay to ensure consistency, comfort, and trust. Just be sure to call ahead to let them know of your needs, so FDR can assign you a well-trained vacation assistant for you and your family. In a personal review of FDR, several parents rave about the warm and quality care they received, including the consideration for their children. From the yellow bird kids’ club to adult excursions, this all-inclusive resort offers something fun for everyone.
- Mesa, AZ
As the first IBCCES Certified Autism City in the United States, Mesa, Arizona is a place of authentic play and fun for a family getaway. What may be the most family-friendly community in the country, Mesa provides opportunities to explore parks and recreation, rock climbing centers, waterparks, museums, and more while simultaneously providing some sensory guides for various Certified Autism Centers in the area. Whether it’s trying out goat yoga, problem-solving your way out of an escape room, or exploring the Sonoran Desert, Mesa has an abundance of activities for parents and children to enjoy. Check out https://www.visitmesa.com/autism-travel/ for more information.
- Nickelodeon Universe and Mall of America
In the Mall of America, IBCCES’ Certified Autism Center Nickelodeon Universe offers countless entertainment, including 27 rides and attractions. From Adventure Bay to Dutchman’s Deck Adventure Course, NU provides a sensory guide that specifies how stimulating each attraction is to each of the senses (touch, taste, sound, smell, and sight). In addition to a well-trained and certified staff, there are also noise-cancelling headphones available for guests to get the most out of their experience. Families can meet famous Nickelodeon characters, take the largest indoor zipline ride, and more. If your kiddo likes bright lights, be sure to stop at the nightly light show on the south side of the Mall of America.
- Hershey Park and Chocolate World (Hershey, PA)
Hershey Park is a family-friendly theme park that invites guests to experience Hersheypark Happy in all four seasons. Changing the experience, one season at a time, you have the opportunity to enjoy day rides, night rides, wildlife, waterparks, and more. Quiet areas are located in guest services in the Pioneer Frontier area and the Kissing Tower Hill area for rest breaks from sensory stimulation. Hershey’s Chocolate World Attraction, found in the same complex as Hershey world, includes a Free Chocolate Tour, Create your own Candy Bar, 4D Chocolate Mystery, and more. Chocolate World is also an IBCCES Certified Autism Center, meaning staff is highly-trained and readily equipped to serve individuals with developmental disorders, in addition to being committed to ongoing training in Autism Spectrum Disorder.
- Flynn Center for Performing Arts
The arts can be for everyone! Activities, productions, and even a summer camp for children with sensory issues? What more could you need? The Flynn Center accommodates to make performing arts experiences welcoming to all individuals with autism or other sensory sensitivities. In addition to break spaces, sensory-friendly materials and environments, FCPA even provides a general social story to prepare kiddos on what to expect. Sensory-friendly camps and classes, such as drumming are available throughout the year for hands-on experience in the arts.
- Tradewinds Island Resort (St. Petersburg, FL)
In search of a relaxing tropical getaway on a beach? Tradewinds Island Resort in St. Petersburg, Florida is all that and more. As a certified special-needs friendly resort by Be Friendlier, this White Sand resort is filled with continuously trained staff who are well-equipped to care for you and your loved ones during vacation. In addition to the Kids’ Club filled with arts and crafts, ceramics, and pool games, there is also a chance to visit the Touch Tank, where guests can encounter small sea creatures. Tradewinds Island Resort offers a variety of accommodations, such as a social story, a safety kit upon arrival, temporary safety tattoos, and various dietary choices. Call ahead to learn how Tradewinds can maximize your happiness and your stay to make this experience unforgettable.
Crowded spaces, loud noises, and thousands of parents and children running around may not seem like the optimal environment to take a child who is easily overly-stimulated; however, Disney does an incredible job to let everyone enjoy the magic. Even before you arrive, you can request yellow luggage tags that indicate that your bags are to be picked up from the airport and delivered to your resort room; this eliminates the wait at baggage claim that can feel never-ending to you and your kiddos and saves you tons of time. Through several accommodations, such as the rider switch and the Disability Access Service (DAS) pass, Disney ensures that appropriate arrangements are made for you and your loved ones. The DAS, used through a guest’s Magic Band, can be used in conjunction with the three free fast-passes per day guests receive to enable guests with autism to move throughout their day with little waiting. Additionally, dining at the parks is easy, as they offer several accommodations, including options for gluten-free, casein-free, have food allergies or even taste aversions. Disney even provides this detailed guide to help you best prepare for a stress-free vacation!
By no means is this a comprehensive list of every friendly destination available, but you can absolutely start here! Whether it’s an all-inclusive resort on a beach or a trip to an amusement park, you and your family deserve the chance to spend quality time together while focusing on nothing but fun. Pick a spot, book a flight, make a call, and start looking forward to your next getaway! Check out some of our other blogs, such as this article, to learn more about personal experiences and considerations when planning!
Want to learn more?
Contact Chicago Occupational Therapy or call (773) 980-0300 to learn more about our services and how we can help your child prepare for a smooth travel experience.