Last month we celebrated Autism Awareness Month as an organization by launching an official partnership with Champion Autism Network (CAN). We invited Becky Large, Executive Director of Champion Autism Network & CEO of Autism Travel Club, to be a guest author on the Miles blog to share more about CAN's mission and what destinations can do to start creating a more welcoming environment for those traveling with autism.
Did you know that mothers with children on the autism spectrum have stress levels comparable to combat soldiers?
While mothers and entire families living with autism may be among the most in need of a vacation, they often face barriers that make it feel easier and safer to just stay home.
For families with autism, even a simple grocery store visit can trigger a tantrum, let alone a fun outing or vacation. Autism can create great discomfort with lights, crowds, smells, sounds and experiences outside of a person’s routine — but because autism is a communication disorder, the discomfort may be expressed through tantrums and meltdowns.
Unfortunately, there are many unaware people who will witness a tantrum in public and judge the family, assuming the child is “spoiled” and has “bad” parents. They might stare and even make rude comments. Parents are left struggling to alleviate their child’s discomfort while also dealing with the judgment directed at them.
Another barrier families with autism face is the lack of autism-ready destinations trained to understand and create supportive, sensory-friendly environments.
With 1 in 36 children in the U.S. being diagnosed with autism, the autism community is growing and it’s becoming increasingly more important to do better with autism awareness, education and readiness.
This is where the Champion Autism Network (CAN) comes in: CAN works with destinations and hospitality businesses to create more inclusive, autism-friendly environments so that people and families with autism can enjoy enriching, playful experiences.
Some of the ways in which CAN works with DMOs, hotels, restaurants and other local businesses include:
- Educating the community on autism-related issues and the needs of people and families living with autism.
- Providing education and training programs to help build inclusive, autism-friendly communities, destinations, businesses and experiences that welcome and actively support people living with autism.
- Hosting sensory-friendly events and activities that connect people living with autism to autism-ready businesses, organizations and community memberswho have been educated and empowered to build safe, autism-aware, judgment-free experiences and spaces through CAN’s ambassadorship of the Autism Travel Club.
- Serving as a trustworthy partner to the autism community, business community and the community-at-large by providing access to reliable education and valuable connection.
There’s much more work ahead and we invite everyone – people and families with autism, community members, businesses, destinations, organizations – to join us in our vision to create a world where all people living with autism can live, work and play without judgment, guilt or worry.
Frankly, it isn’t rocket science, but it is a hidden disability until it isn’t. Serving and supporting people living with autism is easy — once you learn more about this frequently misunderstood disorder.
Some of the ways you and your local community members can start now in creating a more positive and welcoming environment for people and families living and traveling with autism include:
- Reducing judgement: It is easy to judge a child or family who is acting out or awkward. Don’t — this could be a person and family in crisis.
- Learning more about the disorder: Have your business and employees take a short, online autism awareness module to learn about autism and how your business can support and benefit from this loyal and growing population.
- Supporting those with autism: Chances are you already have a relationship with a family with autism; expand your reach and share your commitment and autism readiness with the community.
Together, we can make the world bigger, better and brighter for our friends, family and neighbors living with autism.
To support or simply learn more about the work and impact of CAN and the Autism Travel Club, visit championautismnetwork.com.
Businesses and families wanting to become part of the Autism Travel Club network can visit autismtravel.club.
About the Author
Outside of Becky's role as the Executive Director of Champion Autism Network (CAN), Becky is a business and marketing professional and a mom to a young man with high-functioning autism. After relocating from the northeast to the southeast, she realized there were amazing organizations to support her son but none for the families. As a result, she started CAN to support those families through training, education and advocacy. CAN teaches businesses and organizations how to help and provide inclusive experiences for individuals and families with autism.