Planning family holidays tend to be a military operation at the best of times, but when you are travelling with autistic children things can get even more complicated. Holidays should be fun and relaxing, but when travelling with a child on the autistic spectrum, it can become a very stressful experience. They can feel anxious about everything, from the general unknown to their new accommodation and enviorment, new food, new people and much more. However in recent year’s we have seen a move within the tourism industry to become more ASD friendly, offering a safe enviorment for children with autism, and it is a potential game-changer for these families.
Last year, AsIAm ran a pilot campaign that saw Clonakilty in Cork, become Ireland’s first “autism-friendly” town. In order to acquire this designation, Clonakilty had to go through a robust accreditation process. The Autism Friendly organisations are accredited “Autism Friendly Champions”. Two accommodation providers in the town, namely The Clonakilty Park and Ballynoe House are accredited champions, working closely with AsIAm to achieve a number of key goals to train staff, develop social stories, become service dog friendly, develop a sensory activity specific to the hotel, the creation of a sensory map and a commitment to working with the Clonakilty Autism Friendly Town Committee.
This relaxed, modern hotel is 1 km from Clonakilty town centre and 6 km from the beach at Inchydoney. Informal family rooms are available along with 2- and 3-bedroom apartments and houses adding living areas, and kitchenettes or kitchens. The Clonakilty Park hotel has made every effort to ensure the hotel is as autism friendly as possible, with the key initiatives outlined below.
They developed a sensory map denoting areas of high and low intensity and where specific “triggers” may be. Aquariums were incorporated into their refurbishment design in the lobby and leisure centre.
Prior to or on arrival, an “All About Me” document is provided which enables the child or their parents to outline their specific needs and communication preferences to all members of the team but in particular kids club. A number of social stories were developed for the hotel complex: staying in the hotel, coming for dinner, attending kids club, going to the pool and staying in the bungalows.
A “Sensory Box” is available allowing autistic guests to moderate their sensory experience, complete with something to smell, touch and squeeze while the Garden room provides a quiet space with no music and reduced light. Ear defenders are also available at reception.
Finally, a sensory screening in the cinema takes place on the first Saturday of every month where lights are up and sound is turned down for the latest kid’s release.
Now, the campaign is expanding to 11 further towns – Clane, Bray, Greystones, Wicklow Town, New Ross, Skerries and Lucan, Castlebar, Mallow, Listowel and Tralee.
Sensory Bedrooms at the Radisson Blu, Sligo
The Radisson Hotel & Spa is located in Rosses Point, Sligo. They have opened Ireland’s First, state of the art, Sensory Bedroom, designed for families with children with additional needs in mind.
Created to benefit children with autism, ADHD and a variety of other disabilities, the sensory bedroom at Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa, Sligo combines a range of stimuli to help children interact using their senses, with colourful lights, soft fabrics and music helping individuals to engage in an enjoyable and non-stressful way.
The sensory bedroom has a mobile sensory trolley, complete with a colour command interactive panel and waterless rainbow tube, allowing children to navigate through a spectrum of colours and patterns, and a range of massage rollers, ear defenders and puppets to enjoy during their stay. Visual media also feature in the sensory bedroom, including an Aura Projector, which projects a series of tropical fish and bird imagery, while fibrotic lights allow guests to enjoy a starry night indoors.
The room was developed by the Radisson’s innovation team in conjunction with Multisensory Ireland, who specialise in the creation of sensory rooms and soft play spaces. Featuring colourful bean bags, bed linen and lava lamps, the sensory bedroom is a welcome reprieve for families and children with additional needs looking to take a relaxing break away.
Cork International Hotel
The Cork International Hotel is one of Cork’s top family hotels, with spacious family rooms, kid’s playroom, cinema room and conveniently located right next to Cork Airport, 10 minutes’ drive from Cork City Centre. Recently, the team have been making efforts to improve their experience for families with autistic needs by working with their nominated Charity of Choice, the Rainbow Club Cork. Karen, founder of Rainbow Club, has given training to the team members and both reservations and reception teams are trained to recognise and adjust behaviours to meets the needs of families who may have ASD needs.
A welcome box of useful toys and tools for children with ASD, is made available in the room for guests on arrival while online assistance with story cards/visual aids have been created to enhance their experience.
This ongoing project was interrupted due to the hotel closure as a result of Covid-19 but further work is planned to adapt the Children’s room as more ASD friendly and provide set times.
Hotels with Sensory Play Rooms
In Sligo, the Clayton and Yeats Country Hotel have created sensory playrooms complete with features like calming music, sensory boards, plasma balls, moving lights, aromatherapy diffusers, lava lamps and ball pools. While Limavady’s Roe Park Resort in Northern Ireland, has teamed up with Assistance Dogs NI to open an “autism-friendly room”. Their staff have been trained to improve interactions with guests with autism and other additional needs. They have has also produced a ‘social story’, which families can use to familiarise themselves with the hotel and its layout before they arrive, and facilities for in-room dining.
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All this progress to improve the holiday experience for those with additional needs not only benefits the ASD guest but creates an enviorment whereby hotels and holiday providers may be more willing to cater and adapt to individual needs, instilling confidence and extending the all-important welcome to families with ASD or other additional needs.