In our continued pursuit of talking to travel experts in our quest to set up vacation homes that are autistic-friendly, we talked to Margalit Francus. This interview was very informative, and I would like to thank Margalit for taking almost a whole hour out of her day to talk with us. If you would like to found out more about Margalit, she can be found here.
Trey: Margalit you are an autistic travel expert and you consult with quite a number of hotels on how they can make their rooms more accommodating to Autistic Families. What advice could you provide us in trying to set up autistic-friendly vacation homes near Disney World?
Margalit: The first thing you will want to do is to sit down and make a PDF that will help families know what is around the vacation home they will be renting. The biggest thing about traveling with an autistic person is trying to make everything very familiar to them. On this PDF you should have the following:
- A list of grocery stores and drug stores especially those open 24/7. The list should include the driving distance from the vacation homes and the store’s phone number.
- List of play areas and playgrounds with swings that are near the house.
- A list of at least 5 sensory activities which are nearby to entertain the kids.
- Name of a vet if they are traveling with a service dog.
- List of stores that offer gluten-free foods and their phone number. It would also be helpful if you could provide a shopping list that a family might be able to fill out and have the items already in the house prior to their arrival.
- How far is the house from the major theme parks with available transportation?
Trey: How would you go about setting the house up?
Margalit: Safety and Sensory are the two main things when you are setting a home up for autistic children. I would like to see the houses have more than 1 lock on the front door, something which is harder for the child to open than just a regular deadbolt. If you can’t add more than 1 lock then I would add door sensors with chimes to all the doors and windows to alert the parents that a door or window is being opened. Remember, some autistic children are escape artists.
The pools should have a gate and an alarm on them. Water and autistic children do not mix very well at all.
A lot of autistic children are allergic to many things so you should provide chemical-free sheets, towels, and pillows if the parents request them.
Regarding safety, the pool area is going to be a huge concern with the parents so the more gates and alarms you can have around the pool area the better. Standing floor lamps are always a concern, as well as full-sized mirrors. Please remember, most autistic children are hyper and anything with glass is a major concern.
Trey: What can we do to assist the families prior to their arrival?
Margalit: The list we talked about earlier would be a great help. In addition, the more familiar the child is with where they are going to be staying the better off they are going to be. I would suggest sending the family at least 10 to 15 pictures of the house. Let them show the child what house they are going to be staying in, what the bedroom looks like, what the kitchen looks like, the pool area, and the living room. The more pictures the better since with many autistic kids since familiarity helps acclimate them to a place faster.
Trey: Any special items we should add to the house?
Margalit: Sure, it just depends upon the budget. If it was me, I would have the following items in the home. In the bathroom, a handheld shower (most parents have to help their children with their baths), grab bars, and non-slip bath mats. Creating a ‘sensory area is a good idea as well with a yoga ball, bubble wrap boards, and synthetic pieces of grass for them to walk on. A game place system would be OK but most families have the I pads or their own gameplay systems which they will bring with them. I would probably also have the lighting in the house be dim or at least have 1 room that has dim lighting, some autistic children are sensitive to light.