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Hotels, resorts offer services for special-needs families

February 17, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Families with children who have special needs often find that planning a vacation ends up being too much of a challenge. But more and more destinations and resorts are catching on to the fact that these families deserve special attention. Some vacation companies are now making extra accommodations.

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," said Karin Sheets, who writes the Special Needs Travel Mom blog.

Special-needs parent and travel writer Karin 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 that lets the parents know if the child is leaving the room, to padding and corner edges for tables in the guest rooms, to where are the quiet areas that you can take children to?" said Keith Overton, Tradewinds Resort.

They also help familiarize families with what to expect before they check in. 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," said Sheets.

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

Two more tips for parents: If loud noises bother your child, consider buying a pair of noise-cancelling headphones for the plane or train ride.

And ask hotels if they offer things like special dietary options, including gluten-free choices.