Newfoundland hotel first in Canada to offer autism-friendly accommodations

Hotel Port aux Basques in southwestern Newfoundland offers amenities like extra safety locks and a "sensory room" where kids on the autism spectrum can retreat to tranquillity. Hotel Port aux Basques

Most parents will say that travelling with kids can be a challenge, but for families that include kids with special needs, like autism, the challenges can be amplified. In response to this, a hotel in Newfoundland is attempting to make the journey a lot easier.

Hotel Port aux Basques in southwestern Newfoundland is the first in Canada to offer accommodations that have been specially altered to facilitate travel for parents and kids on the autism spectrum by incorporating added safety features and specialized equipment.

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“Children on the autism spectrum have a hard time with change and transition, so going on vacation can be difficult,” says Marnie Potter, family support co-ordinator at Autism Ontario. “It’s important to prepare them ahead of time by doing things like explaining to them what the mode of transportation will look like and showing them pictures of the hotel.”

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Hotel owner Cathy Lomond says this is a project that’s been two years in the making.

“I was working with AIM [Autism Involves Me, a local organization] when one of the committee members who is now teaching autistic kids explained to me how difficult it is to travel with kids on the autism spectrum,” she tells Global News. “That’s when they broached the idea of a partnership.”

In response, Lomond made tweaks to hotel rooms, including bolting pictures to the walls, adding extra security locks on doors, and putting safety latches on drawers so that parents have the option to hide objects they think might interfere with their kids’ tranquillity. The hotel has also altered their menu to include photographs of the dishes in order to facilitate communication with kids who can’t speak.

Safety locks on dresser drawers mean parents can keep things out of reach. Hotel Port Aux Basques
Double locks on doors prevent ‘wanderers’ from getting out. Hotel Port Aux Basques

In addition, Lomond repurposed a spare room into a “sensory room” where kids can go to calm down, feel safe or even burn off extra energy. The room boasts features like mat flooring, lights that can be dimmed, a “crow’s nest” swing, a climbing wall and a “pea pod” sensory boat.

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“Some of the local parents have brought their children to the quiet room and used it, and they’ve really, really liked it,” she told CBC Radio.

A ‘pea pod’ boat provides a sense of security. Hotel Port Aux Basques

According to the Autism Speaks Canada website, one in 68 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and its prevalence has increased over 100 per cent in the last 10 years.

READ MORE: Robots helping to teach students with autism in West Vancouver

To help accommodate the growing number of people with this challenge, some organizations have introduced new policies. The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority allows people with developmental or intellectual disabilities to be screened without being separated from their companions, and security personnel will work with the companions to determine the best way to screen the passenger.

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In addition, a number of amusement parks like Marineland Canada in Niagara Falls, Toronto’s Canada’s Wonderland and La Ronde in Montreal, offer guests with disabilities discounted fares, line bypasses for rides and pre-scheduled boarding times for the most popular rides.

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