About 1 in 59 children has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of their families—87% according to one survey*—avoid taking vacations together.

There is, however, a growing trend among vacation hot spots to address the needs of these families. With World Autism Month recognized in April, here are just a few examples of how theme parks, cruise ships and other places are helping families impacted by an autism spectrum disorder.

Print and digital sensory guides

Theme parks and cruise ships can be sources of sensory overload—a potential problem for families impacted by autism. Knowing what to expect when you are at these places is one way to help.

At Legoland Florida Resort, for example, parkgoers can request a copy of a “social story” at certain attractions. This visual representation helps visitors understand when there will be periods of darkness, loud noises, bright lights and other elements that can be overwhelming. Walt Disney World Resort, SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica Orlando and other attractions offer similar social stories that can be accessed online and at the park.

Considering a cruise? Royal Caribbean offers social stories that can be downloaded online before your sailing. The booklet helps prepare families by detailing what to expect on the cruise—from the process of boarding the ship to eating dinner onboard. Families can take the social stories on the cruise; they include space for jotting down notes about new experiences.

Many larger museums offer similar social stories that can be accessed through their websites.

Specialized programs

At Legoland, specially equipped spaces in the resort’s Annual Pass, First Aid, Baby Care and Water Park Guest Services facilities are designated as quiet rooms. Guests on the autism spectrum and their families can take a break with noise-cancelling headphones, weighted blankets, squishy toys and Lego building tables. Dollywood offers a similar Calming Room, which is equipped with sensory items.

Royal Caribbean offers complimentary access to content from The Autism Channel onboard most of its ships. Family movies are presented on some ships in a dimly lit and low-volume environment—guests are encouraged to freely talk and walk around during the film. Families can also borrow bags of autism-friendly toys to enjoy on the ship.

Priority entry

Expedited check-in for cruise ships and special passes at theme parks allow guests on the spectrum and their family members to bypass the lines.

Employee training

Vacation destinations are emphasizing that staff have the skills and temperament to help all children, including those with special needs.

At Legoland, for example, all newly hired resort employees receive specialized training to more effectively interact with guests on the autism spectrum. Beaches Resorts in the Caribbean have autism-friendly kids’ camps. Staff members there continuously receive competency training in sensory awareness, social skills and other areas.

Traveling With Autism

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*International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards

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