Now that the summer travel season has arrived, many are looking forward to vacationing with their loved ones. But traveling with one or more children on the autism spectrum can be challenging. Good news: help could be on the way!
In April, Breeze Airlines announced its intention to become “the first certified autism-inclusive U.S. network carrier.”
To do so, Breeze is working with Autism Double-Checked, a Connecticut-based company that trains staff in the travel industry on how to make travel “stress free” and even “pleasant” for individuals with autism spectrum disorders. The company also assesses travel businesses such as hotels, resorts and attractions to determine their level of autism friendliness.
Autism Double-Checked was cofounded by Alan Day and David M. Tait OBE in 2014. Day and Tait are both veteran travel professionals who are also parents of children with special needs. Hence, they are well aware of the challenges special needs families face when they travel. The cofounders have developed a classification system that assesses travel businesses based on their levels of expertise in serving individuals with autism and their families.
According to Autism Double-Check’s classification system, travel companies fall into one of three tiers.
- Level I – Autism Aware
Companies that are “autism aware” have provided training about autism to their service staff. According to Autism Double-Checked, these companies will “be prepared to answer your questions before you book and travel. They have been trained to expect the unexpected, be non-judgmental and autism-inclusivity aware.” So, if your child has a meltdown, you don’t have to panic.
- Level II – Autism Ready
Staff at “autism ready” companies have more intensive training. According to the Autism Double-Checked website, employees at these companies have received “job-specific [training that] deals with the kind of real, everyday situations that you may encounter when away from home with your child.” For example, these staff members understand that some individuals on the autism spectrum have particular dietary needs; how long lines and waiting times may be problematic for autistic travelers; and that some people with autism have a tendency to wander.
- Level III — Autism Double-Checked Certified
These companies go even further in training their employees to “roll out the red carpet” for guests with autism and their families. They go further than others to help families to plan their vacations based on autism friendliness. For example, the Autism Double-Checked visitor guide provides “specific details about possible sensory issues, safety issues and much more: all specific to that location,” according to autismchecked.com. “Best of all, the index is listed by sensory challenge, which allows you quickly to focus on only the information that is specific to your own child’s needs.”
Autism Double-Checked hopes that companies in the industry will increasingly recognize the value of providing autism education to their employees. Considering the fact that more than 20 million North Americans are parents to one or more children with autism who might otherwise be unlikely to travel, Day and Tait point out that supporting autism families is not only a moral imperative, it’s also good business.