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(UK) Travel agencies offer vacations for the "NEURODIVERSE CHILD"

July 13, 2023, Travel Weekly: How do agents meet the needs of families with a neurodiverse child? Mark Rowe, a parent of two autistic children, offers his advice

At least 1% to 1.5% of the UK population – around 700,000 adults and children – are autistic, a condition defined by the National Autistic Society as ‘a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world’.

Autism comes under the overarching umbrella of neurodiversity, which also includes ADHD, where people can have trouble concentrating and seem restless or impulsive. Further neurodiverse conditions include dyslexia and dyspraxia (affecting physical coordination).

Around 14% of people may be neurodivergent. …

Some neurodiverse families breeze through a holiday, but many more find trips incredibly anxiety-provokin g.

The first step a travel agent can take is to ask specifically ‘does your family have any autistic or other neurodiverse needs, such as ADHD?’ In my experience, many families do not volunteer this information, perhaps because we are so used to struggling through on a daily basis. Ask clients what has worked on previous holidays….

The right hotel

‘Family-friendly’ hotels are often noisy, while more-appropriate hotels may be either adult-only or have pools that are not child-friendly. Ask if families require bedrooms away from busy areas or night-time entertainment, or quieter dining times.

Ask if they are OK with kids’ clubs at resorts (the socialising element can make these a no-no) and advise on alternatives, perhaps minigolf or parent-and-child yoga. Would a 360-degree hotel tour be helpful?....

Agents can also ask if children have any special interests. Increasingly, zoos, museums and theme parks give advice on sensory issues, so ask if ‘sensory-gentle’ opening times, outside mainstream visiting hours, are helpful.

Check whether venues or transport operators have accreditation from the National Autistic Society’s Autism Friendly Award scheme.

Autism friendly cruises

The cruise sector has taken some positive steps and families can book sailings that operate in conjunction with Autism on the Seas, where measures include specially trained onboard staff, priority check in and provision for dietary needs.

Participating lines include Royal Caribbean International, NCL, Celebrity Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line and Disney Cruise Line.

As for the journey, agents can let their clients know that the Aviation Passenger Charter also covers the rights of autistic people and those with other non-visible disabilities. Ensure families are aware of the sunflower ‘hidden disability’ lanyard scheme.

This helps at airports where many (though most definitely not all) security staff are familiar with it and means metal detectors and scanners are as light touch as possible. Gatwick is considered to set the standard for this, while other airports are following suit. Dubai offers special assistance; JFK in New York, Changi in Singapore and Sydney airport also recognise the scheme.

Queueing can make anxiety worse, so agents can recommend fast-track security to minimise anxiety. It’s also not widely known that neurodiverse families are entitled to be among those called forward to board aircraft first.

Unless you have direct experience of neurodiversity, it can be hard to understand the ways such conditions impact families – but they will greatly appreciate any steps that agents take to make sure their travels go smoothly.


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