The Caribbean Sea is a little bluer and the sand a bit softer as Beaches All-inclusive Resorts joins the world in celebrating World Autism Acceptance Month, which takes place every year from April 1st to April 30th.
One thing you may not know, though, is that Beaches® Resorts has been celebrating autism acceptance on a daily basis for years – always prepared to deliver a luxury vacation experience everyone could enjoy.
As Autism friendly resorts Beaches goes above and beyond to make every family’s vacation as easy as possible, so beyond introducing various special sensory toys and pillows for children on the spectrum, they’ve always taken measures a step further – even down to the furry friends that walk the resort’s grounds.
Back in 2017, when Sesame Street introduced a kind, young autistic girl named Julia to their set of muppets, Beaches Resorts was the first to be able to bring Julia on-resort to interact with their guests. Ever since, Julia has been sitting down with children to do Amazing Art at all three Beaches Resorts locations; in Ocho Rios, and Negril, Jamaica as well as Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, providing comfort to those on the spectrum and teaching other children about autism along the way. But that’s just what families can immediately see. There’s something more significant behind it all.
Image: Meet Julia, a kind, young autistic Sesame Street Muppet who loves to provide children with comfort at Beaches Resorts!
“We want parents, all parents, to be assured their kids feel safe, have fun, and make lifelong memories — especially if a child is on the autism spectrum,” says Joel Ryan, Group Manager of Themed Entertainment and Children’s Activities for Beaches.
Beaches is so committed to offering families a travel experience they never thought possible, that they’re the only company in the world to recertify its credentials as an Advanced Certified Autism Center (ACAC) through the year 2023. The certifications for Beaches date all the way back to 2017, when it became the first resort company to be designated as a Certified Autism Center (CAC).
The certifications, through the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) – the gold standard in global cognitive disorder training and certification, reinforce a long-standing promise at Beaches to provide a worry-free vacation for everyone. The emphasis is always on everyone.
“Families who want to travel with a child or an adult on the autism spectrum are underserved,” says Liz Kaiser, Director of Branding and Partnerships for Unique Vacations Inc., worldwide marketing representatives for Sandals Resorts and Beaches Resorts. She cites a recent survey saying 84 percent of parents with autistic children are more likely to visit a resort where the staff is trained in autism sensitivity. The question those parents always ask is: Where can I possibly find that?
“Their choices are limited,” says Kaiser. “As a parent, how do you know that a resort’s employees will understand your challenges? How do you know they’ll be patient? What about safety? Our staff is sensitive and understanding to families who have to ask these often-difficult questions.”
Behind the scenes at each Beaches Resort, as part of the ACAC accreditation,team members go through at least 40 hours of autism sensitivity training. Knowing how to communicate is crucial. So is the awareness of motor skills, social skills, emotions, and sensory triggers.
Image: Beaches Resorts' certified specialists are here to support your family's vacation experience, every step of the way!
Parents don’t even have to look at the certificates to know there’s a mood that makes Beaches different than any other resort. It’s the positivity that never wanes, even when an outburst or special request comes out of the blue.
For peace of mind, parents can call a dedicated toll-free number to Beaches’ Special Services Team, certified by IBCCES, during the planning stages of a vacation. The trained team can assist in recommending experiences and advise on specific suite locations to limit stimuli. Through their dedicated Culinary Concierge they can plan meals according to allergies and specific diets. They can request cleaning products to alleviate sensitivities to smells. They can even recommend the most convenient airport transportation to take, and with how many people. And pretty soon, Beaches will be launching a Sensory Stimulation Guide, in partnership with IBCCES, for each of its resorts so guests with sensory needs can have a better understanding of what to expect in each designated area of the resort.
“Our only agenda,” says Ryan, “is for families to have a vacation they never imagined.” The certifications make it official. But for Ryan, it’s been personal for a long time.
Ryan has had thousands of special moments during his 17 years with the resort company. But he talks about one moment, back in 2008, as if it happened this morning. It didn’t involve a colorful costume or a single spoken word.
“We didn’t need to say anything,” Ryan says of that day with the nine-year-old girl at the friendliest spot-on earth at Beaches Turks & Caicos.
A day earlier, his Kids Camp team had been greeting families when a mom and dad approached with their daughter and a message.
“Before we make any plans,” the mom said, “we need to explain autism to you.”
She went on to give Ryan a long “don’t” list for their daughter. Ryan politely listened before asking, “Tell me, what are some of the things you would like her to do.”
He sensed the mother’s fear. A child on the autism spectrum might get lost, might withdraw, or might have a meltdown. In a new place, there’s no telling what might happen. A parent knows this hard truth: Unless you’re willing to navigate daily life with my child, you won’t understand.
But Ryan did understand. He’d been traveling to Pennsylvania to help his sister with her autistic son. He’d spoken with educators there, trying to educate them about including children on the spectrum rather than isolating them.
“They didn’t understand either,” says Ryan.
So, as the mother of this nine-year-old girl spoke to Ryan at Beaches, he kneeled down to allow the girl to see his eyes. He looked up at Mom. “Don’t worry, I have some ideas.”
Image: Take a walk on the beach and enjoy the beautiful sites together.
The next morning the little girl silently painted with Ryan. After a few minutes she put down her brush. The details have not faded in the 13 years that have passed.
“She placed her right hand on my left cheek,” Ryan says, “and with her left hand she pointed to the ocean.”
The girl had spent most of her nine years inside, with caregivers coming to her home. You can only imagine what she thought about the mystical colors and invisible boundaries of the Caribbean Sea.
Ryan walked with the little girl to the water. At the spot where the sand meets the sea, she sat down. She pointed up to Ryan. Her eyes said, you sit down, too.
“We sat together and let the water run back and forth over our feet,” says Ryan. For hours they sat, silently, in that glorious spot.
The next day, the mom and dad extended their Beaches stay from seven days to ten days. Ryan and his team were simply living out the Beaches tagline: “The resorts for everyone.” And that was just the beginning...
Image: Aerial view of Beaches Turks and Caicos' Italian Village, one of five expansive villages to stay at with your family.
Families with children on the spectrum have been coming back to Beaches Resorts repeatedly for many years. In fact, there’s one family who especially loves vacationing at Beaches Turks & Caicos with their son who is on the spectrum, Jack. He’s now 16 years old and stands six-foot-four. He recently made his seventh trip to Beaches with his family. Everyone knew Jack as soon as he stepped into the open-air lobby.
“Jack! You got so tall!”
The look on Jack’s face said very clearly, “I’m so happy to be back!”
In the family’s suite, Jack followed the routine he always follows. He went into the bathroom to unwrap each bar of soap. He lined his 14 toothbrushes on the bed as straight as pickets on a fence. He placed his stuffed bunny where he could see it from anywhere in the room. Then his parents did something they never would have dreamed of a few years aggo...
They let Jack go.
“We hand him a walkie-talkie and remind him about sunscreen,” says his mother, Carrie. “He eats lunch when he wants and slides down the waterslides as many times as he wants. People here understand Jack. They love him. He’s happy. And for one week out of fifty-two, I can relax.”
Here on the edge of the sea, parents witness the life-giving power of freedom.
“We don’t want Beaches to be the exclusive choice for family travel, though,” says Kaiser. “Our vision is for every resort company in the world to follow our lead and train their staffs to understand families with children on the spectrum.”
The vision also stretches into Caribbean communities, where Beaches employees are taking awareness and training into their own neighborhoods.
“Here at Beaches, we don’t think of anyone in terms of ‘normal’,’” says Ryan. “We literally see ‘amazing’ in every person.”
And that’s worth celebrating every single day.
Image: Beaches Resorts, the resorts truly made for everyone.