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!)
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!
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.