Preparing children with autism for their hotel stay
MANILA, Philippines — Gelo Go, 17 and with autism, is the son of the national board treasurer of Autism Society Philippines (ASP). He joined the other families of ASP’s board trustees last May in Tagaytay Highlands for a bonding experience.
Gelo is used to eating on time. And it was already way past 12 noon when our group started moving to have lunch. Upon entering the restaurant, Gelo, who is communication-challenged, sat down and would not budge. A Special Education teacher among us and another yaya joined in prompting Gelo. But Gelo made “objection noises” and even sat around a table occupied by other guests.
There was a slight commotion. All eyes were on Gelo. Some hotel guests courteously turned away and resumed eating; others were obviously curious. There was an awkward silence.
Families of children with autism often encounter unpredictable behaviors in different environments.
Thankfully, in the experience with Gelo, the hotel guests remained calm. The waiters also quickly responded by attending to Gelo’s needs, without making a big deal out of the situation. The family was able to enjoy a decent meal, while in the company of kind-hearted strangers and accommodating staff.
A witness to that scene is our Angel Talker this week, ASP board secretary Tiffany Tan, who would rather be known as the mother of JR, proudly with autism.
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Children with autism may enjoy a holiday with the rest of the family. But without ample preparation, the family may encounter uncomfortable situations.
One of the key elements in preparing children with autism for an enjoyable hotel stay is exposure. One or two weeks before the intended holiday, explore the hotel your family will be staying. It is also good to secure a brochure from your travel agent ahead of time to serve as visual aid.
Go online. Let your child have a visual aid or take a virtual tour of the hotel facilities, such as the pool area, playground, restaurants, and rooms. You can make this another activity by having him identify the different areas, and what he might be expected to do.
Do not forget to involve other family members. Make a vacation guide. Aside from the hotel brochure, have a map highlighted if you are driving to your destination. Talk about the tourist attractions you will visit, including stop-overs. If you will be visiting relatives while staying in the hotel, show their photographs to the CWA and siblings.
Pack some of his favorite items like a toy or book. For those who have tactile sensitivities, bring their own bed sheets or towels. If your child is sensitive to other hygiene products, bring their own organic soap/shampoo. Involve your child in packing for the hotel stay. Always have identification in the person of your child, like a PWD ID.
Checking-in can be a long process, which can be a source of meltdowns for CWAs. So take effort to have prior booking and communicate with the hotel any special arrangements you will need to cut on time during checking-in. Ask one of your companions to look after your CWA while you are checking-in or the other way around.
Upon entering the hotel room, allow the CWA to explore the room. Let them switch on the TV, open closets and drawers, smell towels, flush the toilet, open the refrigerator, or lie/jump on the bed. This can be their way of familiarizing with the environment.
As a precaution, request for a room without balconies. Some CWA can be very hyperactive. Avoid high-traffic areas (near elevators or utility areas), which can create unnecessary noise. Bring your own door stopper for bathrooms, and check if curtains block out the lights when it is bedtime.
Also, don’t forget to set some of your own family rules. You don’t want to have to pay for broken vases, cracked mirrors, ripped sofa or opened juice drinks from the hotel ref that cost hundreds of pesos! You can also request the housekeeping to remove these items.
If you intend to let your child swim in the pool, make sure he has prior experience using the pool. Again, slow and constant exposure in a new environment is key. Visit public pool facilities in your area. Test to see if your child is comfortable swimming with your family.
If your child doesn’t know how to swim, consult his therapist or a professional instructor for advice, or stay away from the pool all together. Never assume that hotel staff or lifeguards can or know how to deal with our special children. If you decide to let your child swim anyway, always stay with your child and never leave him unattended. Another option is to explore the hotel spa for Jacuzzis, or just use the hotel bathtub.
Try checking out their gym facilities. Do they have trampolines or exercise balls to address their sensory needs? How about a big playground that they can run around and play in?
If your hotel has a spa, this can be a bonus, as you and your companion can either take turns to be with the CWA, while the other gets to enjoy the spa facilities.
In case of emergency
Be aware of fire escape in case of emergencies. Instead of the elevator or escalator, you can opt to use the stairs in the fire escape. Not only can this be a good exercise, this can also tire out your hyperactive child.
Don’t forget to always have a PWD ID on your child’s pocket. This will help identify him in case he gets lost. Alert the front desk that they have a guest with autism. This way, they will be more alert in case the need arises.
Does your child have a special diet? Call the hotel chef in advance to request for a special meal (GF/CF Diet). This way, the rest of the family members can enjoy dining together with the CWA, without unexpected delays.
For children who are harder to manage, you can always opt for room service or just buy take-out altogether. If dining in the hotel restaurant, request the waiter to serve him first. Another option is to reserve a special area at the back of the restaurant for you to dine.
Families with CWA who frequent hotels will be glad to know that last June 20, Taal Vista Hotel conducted an orientation program on caring for their hotel guests with special needs. More than a hundred hotel managers and frontliners attended. Scheduled this coming July 13 is a similar orientation for 300 managers and frontliners of Tagaytay Highlands. SM Cares Program extends its Program on Disability Affairs to their subsidiary hotels. Now, we don’t have just autism-friendly malls; we now have autism-friendly hotels.
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ASP joins the nation in celebrating the 33rd National Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation (NDPR) Week, July 17-23, ASP Cavite Chapters celebrate NDPR Week via holding the 2011 Cavite Special Mini-Olympics in SM Dasmarinas on July 18; while ASP Quezon City Chapters will be showing “Alyana”, the first full-length documentary film on autism in the Philippines, at the Benitez Theater of UP Diliman on July 16. ASP Cebu will be conducting a seminar on “Sensory Integration and Understanding the Picky Eater” by Lady Suarez, OTRP. For more details, log on to www.autismsocietyphilippines.blogspot.com
Dang U. Koe is the chairman emeritus of Autism Society Philippines (a not-for-profit family support organization with 50 chapters nationwide, and almost 7,000 family and professional members who are working together to create an environment that helps persons with autism spectrum disorder to become, to the best of their potentials, self-reliant, independent, productive and socially accepted members of society. She is a sought-after seminar and conference speaker on autism. Her 17-year old son Gio, diagnosed with autism, propels her to be a passionate autism advocate.