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Special Report: Resorts cater to special needs families

Life can be hard. That's what makes vacation so sweet - you get to get away from it all. But what if you have a child with special needs, like autism for example, and vacation ends up being more of a challenge than staying home?
Life can be hard. That's what makes vacation so sweet - you get to get away from it all. But what if you have a child with special needs, like autism for example, and vacation ends up being more of a challenge than staying home?

More and more destinations and resorts are catching on to the fact that special needs families deserve special attention, and they're making it easier than ever for those families to relax a bit, too.

Sophia Guarneri has autism. Her mom, Stacy, says she's amazing, but life can be difficult day-to-day. Vacation should be a welcome getaway.

"It's helpful for a family to go and to be able to relax," Stacy said.

But relaxing can be difficult with a child with special needs in a strange environment.

Resorts are realizing there are more and more families like Stacy's, and a growing number are taking steps to help. In return, special needs families are spreading the word.

"When you find a place that works for your family you tell everyone." Special Needs Travel Mom and Writer Karin Sheets, says.

Sheets loves the new "autism friendly" designation from the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities. Resorts can earn it with sensitivity training to show staff how to handle these special needs. And many don't stop there.

"Anything from implementing a safety kit in the room, which has a door alarm on it, to padding and corner edges for tables in the guest room, to where are the quiet areas that you can take a children to?" Keith Overton of Tradewinds Resorts said.

They also help familiarize families with what to expect before they check in.

"We have what's called social books and these are really customized with pertinent information to family members in advance of their arrivals," Overton said.

The options are there for families with all kinds of special needs, not just autism.

"Every kid varies and what I look for in a room for my special needs kid is different than what another child or another family is going to need," Sheets said.

"We always have to make sure that if there is a balcony that there is a latch on the door,” Stacy said. “You have to kind of pre-plan and think of your own home and make it the same for the child."

Another important aspect for families with special needs, like Stacy's, is simply the knowledge that they are wanted, and welcome.

"They accommodated us,” Stacy said. “They were happy. We were happy and everything was great."

Parts of the special offerings include special dietary options, including gluten free choices.
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