Autism-friendly travel for kids on the spectrum

Autism-friendly travel for kids on the spectrum

According to Alan Day, cofounder and CEO of Autism Double-Checked
, a company that trains the hospitality industry how to best accommodate travelers with autistic family members, 87 percent of parents with autistic children say they do not take family vacations, yet 93 percent would be more inclined to travel if autism-friendly options were available.

Here are some ideas and tips for traveling — far-flung or nearby — that are autism-friendly.


Eight years ago, Massport launched the Wings for Autism program at Boston Logan International Airport to help autistic children practice how to navigate the airport, including checking in, getting through TSA security inspection, and boarding an aircraft. The twice-yearly program, created by Brad Martin, deputy director of Aviation Customer Service, is now modeled at 57 US airports. Massport also teams up with individual airlines and TSA to offer personal meet and assist services for those families who need extra help, says Bernice Freedman, spokeswoman for Massport.


Autism on the Seas organizes cruises for families with special needs and even has trained professional volunteers to accompany families on their cruise.

“We have hundreds of families cruising with us on our staff-assisted cruises each year and it is growing year in and year out,” says Mike Sobbell, president and founder of Autism on the Seas. “Our 1:1 staff service has also grown in popularity as the number of families opting for a dedicated staff caregiver has increased.” Royal Caribbean International is the most popular line the company works with, he says. Families can also take the free “Seaing Is Believing” ship tour (with lunch) offered at ports including Boston.

On the horizon: Cruise Buddy, for teens (and adults), will be available for those on the spectrum who are more independent. They’ll connect with their Cruise Buddy prior to sailing, and get buddy assistance onboard with finances, meals, and excursions. www.seasforautism

Beaches Resorts

(Beaches Negril, Beaches Ocho Rios, and Beaches Turks & Caicos)

Meet Julia, the 4-year-old Sesame Street Muppet on the autism spectrum, who hangs at Beaches. Julia especially loves to paint and help kids express themselves through art in open-ended art activities. The staff also undergoes sensitivity training with resources from Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children.

Two years ago, Beaches Resort was designated a Certified Autism Center by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES). This spring, Beaches became an Advanced Certified Autism Center, and offers personalized pre-travel questionnaires, private in-room check-in with sensory toys, modified culinary choices, and quiet spaces. And, a One-on-One IBCCES Autism Certified Beaches Buddy, too.

SeaWorld Orlando

Earlier this year, the theme park was designated a Certified Autism Center by IBCCES. “With 1 in 59 children diagnosed on the autism spectrum, the resources and tools that our parks now offer can provide peace of mind for families with members that have autism and other special needs,” says SeaWorld Orlando president Kyle Miller.

These tools include sensitivity and awareness staff training and a comprehensive autism competency exam. There is also a designated quiet room for kids, and pre-visit planning resources including an online park specific sensory guide, says Miller. “This sensory guide makes it easier for parents to plan activities that satisfy their child’s specific needs and accommodations, by providing insight on how a child with sensory processing issues may be affected by each sense for each attraction, including highlighting areas that are most soothing.”


You don’t have to travel to distant spots for a memory-building getaway. The Sammartino family recently enjoyed a trip to Story Land in Glen, N.H. The theme park partners with Autism Speaks to host a Sensory Friendly weekend twice a year — loud music is turned off throughout the park, as well as startling features on the rides.

And in Boston, The Boston Pops offered its first sensory-friendly concert at Boston’s Symphony Hall in June and has plans for more. The 75-minute concert includes modifications like reduced volume and lighting, relaxed house rules (cancel or leave the concert early), noise-reduction headphones, and on-site credentialed autism therapist volunteers.

Laurie Wilson can be reached at

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