I bet you didn’t realize that your virtual experiences also provide valuable planning information for visitors with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Museums, zoos and tourist destinations across the country are releasing virtual experiences for consumers to explore during this time of social distancing. They are great for drumming up excitement about an attraction and can range from a DIY tour utilizing shots from Google Street Maps to full-blown video production content with a host and everything.
While many of these are slated as temporary, in honor of World Autism Day, we have a few reasons why you should make them permanent. In case you aren’t familiar, ASD is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior, as defined by the National Insititute of Mental Health. People with ASD can benefit from routines; I’ve heard parents of children with ASD referred to as master planners, which is no surprise when you have a child who thrives on predictability.
Virtual experiences can provide these master planners and other travel companions with invaluable information, helping to make their next trip to the museum successful and filled with positive memories. As travel marketers, we can never completely predict the circumstances someone will arrive at our destination with, but virtual experiences can provide the information visitors need to gather the information they require.
“We can never completely predict the circumstances someone will arrive at our destination with, but virtual experiences can provide the information visitors need.”
Here are a few ways that virtual experiences can help travel planning for people with ASD:
1. Identify triggers
Outings can go wrong for people with ASD when they encounter trigger situations. These triggers can differ from person to person and virtual experiences allow their travel companions to review the attraction and identify situations that may have a negative impact on their trip. They can then prepare and plan ahead for what lies around the next corner.
2. Survey the environment
Are there areas where a traveler with ASD can explore independently at the attraction? Are there frequent benches or quiet corners where visitors can relax should there be a need to pause from the excitement? Seeing the surroundings firsthand can arm planners with the details they find important to plan accordingly.
3. Establish a play-by-play itinerary
People with ASD can thrive on predictability. Even in new surroundings, aids like “social-stories”, which have a short description of an event or activity and tells the person what they can expect, can be developed for them to follow. Virtual experiences may allow parents and travel companions to create these or similar itineraries to help someone with ASD throughout their visit.
4. Pre-visit familiarization
Gently introducing a person with ASD to an upcoming deviation to their normal routine can also help make the visit more enjoyable. A virtual experience may provide the specificity of what they can expect when they arrive for their visit.
Providing more visual content of your attraction or destination is beneficial to travelers of all abilities. The information that potential visitors can collect based on what they find important is invaluable and could easily be the deciding factor between them visiting your attraction over a competitor. As we emerge from the uncertainty of the world today, give all your potential visitors everything they need to say “yes” to visiting your destination or attraction and keep the virtual experiences coming.
There are numerous assistive communication devices that could be beneficial to a visitor with Autism during their time with you. The Autism Parenting Magazine explains several different devices that can support your visitors and their families while they visit your destination. Consider working with an expert organization on developing resources for these visitors.