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76 Waterford Way
Fairport, NY, 14450
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5 Reasons Families with Autism Should Travel to Beaches Resorts

Nicole Thibault


Families with Autism can have a particularly difficult time finding travel destinations that have the appropriate accommodations for their family’s needs. Some may tout themselves as '“autism-friendly,” but what does that really mean?

Several destinations have become “Autism Certified,” meaning they’ve gone through extensive autism training for their entire staff and have gone through audits of their accommodations from the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Educational Standards.

And Beaches Resorts (in Jamaica and Turks and Caicos) have gone a step further, and have become an Advanced Certified Autism Center, providing more support and accommodations for families with members on the Autism Spectrum

So why should families with Autism travel to a Beaches Resort?

  1. Beaches Resorts have an Advanced Certified Autism Center designation. What does this mean? It means that in addition to the first round of Autism training the Beaches Resort staff went through last year, the staff has also completed an in-depth training of 40 credit hours on autism sensitivity and awareness, and has completed an audit by IBCCES to ensure compliance.

  2. Beaches Resorts can provide families with Autism a “Beaches Buddy.” What is a Beaches Buddy? Families can hire a trained Aide to pal around with you and your family member with Autism. Whether a child or an adult with Autism, this Beaches Buddy can be an extra set of hands as you make your way through the day at Beaches, an extra set of eye for safety while you’re at the beachfront, or someone to give Mom or Dad a break - so they can have an adult conversation, a nap, a night out, or hang out with your family member with Autism, so you can spend some precious time with the other siblings in the family. Hired by the hour, and for an incredibly reasonable rate, these Beaches Buddies can be game-changers for families looking for a relaxing family vacation.

  3. Beaches Resorts provide families with Autism a pre-travel questionnaire. Some resorts and cruises have a pre-travel questionnaires for families with disabilities, but none as comprehensive as the Beaches Resorts form. This questionnaire asks questions like: What forms of communication does your family member use? What therapy model does your family member follow at home? What social and visual cues do you use at home? How do you calm your family member? What are his/her triggers? What are his/her interests? What are his/her non-preferred activities? What are his/her dietary restrictions or food aversions?

  4. Families with Autism can consult the Beaches Resorts’ Culinary Concierge. Whether it’s a food allergy, a special casein-free/gluten-free diet, or your family member has Food Aversions due to texture or smell, the Culinary Concierge can help! The Culinary Concierge can review the restaurants on property, and the menus choices at each location. They can even arrange for specific food from one restaurant to be delivered to another restaurant, so the family doesn’t have to limit their restaurant choices based on one individual’s food limitations.

  5. Beaches Resorts have the “Amazing Art with Julia” program. The Beaches Resort Kid’s Club, kids with and without Autism can participate in the “Amazing Art with Julia” program. At select times and days, kids watch a Sesame Street episode introducing Julia to the other muppets on Sesame Street. Here, they learn that Julia does things in her “own Julia-way” because she has Autism. After the video, the kids work on an art project and Julia comes to visit the kids in the classroom. It’s a wonderful way to open the conversation about Autism, acceptance, and inclusion.

Beaches Resorts: Why their Advanced Certified Autism Center status matters

Nicole Thibault


Recently, the Beaches Resorts declared that they’ve upped their game when it comes to accommodating families with Autism. Last year, they announced that all of the resorts went through Autism training with the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Educational Standards (IBCCES), and have obtained their status as a Certified Autism Center (CAC). Then last month, in honor of Autism Awareness Month, Beaches Resorts revealed that they have gone above and beyond their CAC status, and are now an Advanced Certified Autism Center (ACAC).

What does it mean for a destination to obtain an Advanced Certified Autism Center? In addition to the first round of training for the Beaches Resort staff, and an audit completed by IBCCES to ensure compliance, Beaches Resorts have completed an in-depth training of 40 credit hours on autism sensitivity and awareness, are providing activities and accommodations for guests on the spectrum, and will continue to offer special services including a “Beaches Buddy," a trained, private childcare assistant who is certified by IBCCES. In addition, Beaches Resorts provides guests with Autism a personalized pre-travel questionnaire, so Beaches Resort staff can assist in the vacation planning process, provides access to the Culinary Concierge program to help with special diets or food aversions, provides a modified check-in process and the availability of sensory toys for children during check-in. Kid’s Camps and entertainment areas have also been modified in design and decoration to create a more sensory-friendly environment.

What does the ACAC designation mean to families on the Spectrum?


My family traveled to the Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort last October, and we’re so pleased to report that the training the staff has completed and the accommodations that have been made make such a difference to families with a child or family member with Autism.

We have three boys in our family - one with Autism (age 14) , one typically-developing (age 12) , and one with Sensory Processing Disorder (age 11). We have a mixed bag of challenges, and sometimes struggle with traveling to new destinations, but out flight, transfer to the resort and check-in process went very smoothly.

Our first day was spent at the Pirate’s Island Water Park. The boys absolutely adored the water slides, lazy river and swim-up smoothie bars. From a centrally-located sun chair, I was able to monitor the boys with ease, and get this - also RELAX. (Crazy, right? Mom relaxing? It’s unheard of!)

Enjoying the water slides

Enjoying the water slides

“How many smoothies can we have?” they asked. “As many as you want,” I said, “it’s all-inclusive!”

“How many smoothies can we have?” they asked. “As many as you want,” I said, “it’s all-inclusive!”

I was very excited about the nightly entertainment on stage with Creativiva Caribbean, Inc. Shows included music, dancing, storytelling, and acrobatics - all family-friendly. The acrobats were amazing, I don’t know how those performers can balance and move like that!


The noise-levels were a little loud for my little guy with Sensory Processing Disorder. Often, we would sit in the back row of the shows, or find an alternate activity for him during some of the music events. I will be sure to bring our noise-cancelling headphones on our next trip!

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I thoroughly enjoyed my tour of the “Amazing Art with Julia” program at the Kid’s Club. Our trip coincided with me attending the Social Media on the Sand event (Go #BeachesMoms!), and I was honored to be chosen to experience this activity.

Julia joins kids in the club during a creative art activity, and kids also learn about Julia and her Autism. The message here is simple: ALL kids are amazing, and Julia does things in her Julia-way. This program fosters acceptance and love and was one of my favorite parts to this trip, beyond spending time with my family.

This program is run at certain times of the day, so if you’d like your kids to participate in this program, be sure to ask the Beaches Resort staff for days and times.


My older boy with Autism struggles with anxiety in new places, and what I loved about the Beaches Resort is that he had the room to self-regulate and calm himself the way HE needed to. For him, he needs space to pace and explore and get used to his new environment, and we were able to observe from afar, and yet still give him the room to acclimate himself to the resort.


And can I just say? It’s all in the name - BEACHES. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a stunning beach in all my life. Crystal clear blue waters, and white sand. All of my boys loved swimming in the ocean and we had the best time, bonding as a family and turning off the daily grind for a while. I look back on the photos now, of the boys laughing as they splash in the this water, and I want to immediately book my next trip.


The sign says it all, doesn’t it?


Our son’s Autism does not necessitate the need for a Beaches Buddy, but from other Autism Moms and Dads who have used one during their stay at the Beaches Resorts, I hear it’s a GAME CHANGER. I heard one Mom say how her typically-developing child was thrilled because the parental attention was evenly-divided between the two kids, with the help of the Beaches Buddy, and how special that was to the sibling, to get some one-on-one Mom and Dad time.

I’ve also heard that families with adult children are also coming to Beaches Resorts and using the Beaches Buddies. Many of these families have not dreamed of taking a vacation until now, but with the one-on-one assistance and accommodations, it’s finally possible. How beautiful that is!

Our favorite Autism accommodation at the Beaches Resort comes from the Culinary Concierge. Because of our son’s Autism, he eats only a handful of foods. Eating at restaurants or away from home can be a challenge. Often before a vacation, I research all of the restaurants and the menu options, so I know which restaurants we can and cannot go to. If they don’t have a plain burger, pizza, or chicken nuggets, we’re probably not going there, which limits the rest of the family to only a few choices.

On our first day of the trip, I met with the Culinary Concierge to talk about my son’s limited diet. We were able to review menu choices, talk about which restaurants would be a good fit, and we even made a reservation at Kimono’s, the hibachi restaurant onsite.

Now, my son loves the show of hibachi, but won’t actually eat anything from the menu. The Culinary Concierge was able to arrange for a pizza to be delivered to our table for my son - so he could enjoy the show of the hibachi dinner, but also have a food choice that he’d enjoy. And the rest of us were able to try a new restaurant. Now that’s an amazing accommodation for a family with a child with Autism!

Many destinations are becoming Certified Autism Centers and I cheer every time a new one is announced. It only means more choices of destinations for families with Autism, and we need to be seen and accepted in all public places - at the grocery store, at the library, at school functions, and yes, even on vacation. Representation matters. Acceptance matters. Autism families need to know they’ll be welcomed and accommodated, and Beaches Resorts are doing just that.

And because Beaches Resorts have gone above and beyond to earn the Advanced Certified Autism Center, it means that they’re are willing to go the distance (and more!) for families like mine, and that makes all the difference in the world.


Our day at Discovery Cove: A Certified Autism Center

Nicole Thibault

My boys and I happened to be in Orlando the day that Discovery Cove announced that it had become a Certified Autism Center. I was so excited; my husband and I had gone to Discovery Cove 15 years ago on our honeymoon, but we hadn’t take the kids yet.

My oldest son is 14 years old and on the Autism Spectrum. While Discovery Cove might seem like the perfect destination for all kids, especially because Discovery Cove only allows 1,300 guests per day (so no lines and lots of quiet spaces), I was still worried how my son would do during some of the activities at Discovery Cove because of his Anxiety levels. His biggest challenge is overcoming anxiety and fears, and participating in new activities can be daunting for him.

So while we were in Orlando, I decided to try Discovery Cove with my boys. My oldest is 14 and has Autism, my middle son is 12 years old and typically-developing, and my youngest son is 10 years old and has Speech Apraxia and Sensory Processing Disorder.

We arrived for our day at Discovery Cove and checked in at the lobby. We all received our lanyards and our Dolphin Swim times on the card.

Checking in at Discovery Cove

Checking in at Discovery Cove

Once we were checked in, we made out way to Laguna Grill for some breakfast. All three of my boys loved the breakfast food selection and there was something for everyone. My son with Autism is quite a picky eater, and even he had a full plate of food.

Breakfast choices at the Laguna Grill

Breakfast choices at the Laguna Grill

Once we finished breakfast, the boys and I headed over to get our wetsuits for the day. We could choose a full wetsuit or a neoprene vest. My son with Autism tried the wetsuit, but found it too confining, so he went back and got a vest instead.

Wetsuit cabana

Wetsuit cabana

On the way to our cabana, I was so delighted to spot this sign on the pathway, letting guests know that Discovery Cove in a Certified Autism Center. It also shows a Sensory Guise for each attraction, letting guests know what to expect from different parts of the Park.

A Sensory Guide showing sensory levels for each attraction at Discovery Cove

A Sensory Guide showing sensory levels for each attraction at Discovery Cove

We were super lucky to experience an animal encounter on our day at Discovery Cove.. The Animal Expert introduced us to an armadillo, and told us all about how to care for her, her eating habits, and what her shell is made from. The boys were encouraged to touch her and feel her hard shell.

Meeting an armadillo at our Animal Encounter

Meeting an armadillo at our Animal Encounter

After the animal encounter, we made our way to the Explorer’s Aviary. My middle son is a Bird Boy, and loves to interact with birds every chance he gets. He was thrilled to be able to get a small bowlful of fruit pieces and feed the birds in the Aviary.

My son, the Bird Boy.

My son, the Bird Boy.

After the Explorer’s Aviary, we made our way to the Grand Reef to try our hand at snorkeling. This is where I thought my son with Autism would have the most issues. He has anxiety about swimming with fish and sea creatures, and was not sure how he would do with snorkeling. While not everything is a huge success, he did put the mask on and get into the water. It’s progress. Perhaps on our next trip, he will put his face in the water. Baby steps.

Not quite ready to try snorkeling

Not quite ready to try snorkeling

My youngest son was quite brave and like checking out the different colored fish and giant sting rays in the Reef.

My youngest son was fascinated by the giant rays in the Grand Reef

My youngest son was fascinated by the giant rays in the Grand Reef

Finally it was time for our Dolphin Swim Experience. Again, this activity was an unknown, and I had no idea how my son would do with being in the water with a dolphin.

I have to say the Dolphin Trainers were AMAZING. You could absolutely tell that they’ve been thought the Autism training, as they were very sensitive to my son’s anxiety and fear. They were calm and inviting, and patient while he worked up the courage to touch the dolphin.

Seeing his face as he conquered his fear and let the dolphin swim with him through the water brings tears to my eyes. With every experience like this one, I know he will try more new activities and go new places.

Although he was hesitant to touch the dolphin, my son overcame his fear and was able to interact with her.

Although he was hesitant to touch the dolphin, my son overcame his fear and was able to interact with her.

All of my boys loved the Dolphin Interaction. Some were more comfortable that others, but all participated and had an incredible day.


Our day at Discovery Cove was one we will not forget. Discovery Cove was already a quiet oasis in the middle of theme-park central, but now that it’s a Certified Autism Center, it’s a must-do destination for ALL families.

Our successful day at Discovery Cove

Our successful day at Discovery Cove