The group was gathered for the official ribbon cutting, which marked the hotel’s official status as the first autism friendly hotel in Canada and only the second such hotel in North America.
Amidst all of the speeches and photo opportunities was a simple yet striking message, delivered most appropriately by Autism Involves Me (AIM) co-founder April Billard, mother of two children on the autism spectrum.
“Maybe if those individuals involved in booking accommodations were more understanding and prepared, maybe more autism families could travel, and not just for appointments,” she said. “Maybe we could start to travel for fun trips for our children like everybody else.”
Hotel manager Cathy Lomond says hotel owners are already responding favourably to that message and she will continue to help spread it even further.
“I have had two requests from hotels in Newfoundland and I currently chair Canada Select (Atlantic Board),” Lomond confirmed, “so this is an agenda item for our meeting next week because it’ll be an easy fit for us to do that.”
In addition, Lomond has already prepared up a checklist for other hotels looking to make their accommodations more autism friendly. The tools her own hotel uses, such as a slideshow she shares with parents to prepare their children for their stay or a list of questions her staff asks future guests, are also made available to other hotels so that they can draw up their own versions.
Eventually the hotel and AIM hope to host an annual weekend retreat for families, where their loved ones will not only be safe, but able to enjoy a lot of the area’s amenities.
“The Bruce II have already said they’re on board,” said AIM co-founder Joan Chaisson.
Swimming instructors and other staff at the sports complex underwent autism sensitivity training at the same time as the hotel. Swimming, bowling and other sports will be made available to hotel guests, along with such treats as a horse and cart ride.
Chaisson said local businesses have also offered discounts for such things as haircuts or spa pampering for visiting parents while their children are playing. Should the weekend retreat prove successful, more than one hotel room will be needed, so Lomond has begun the process of converting an entire hotel floor into autism safe accommodation.
“It is now the fastest neurological disorder on the planet,” said Lomond of autism. “So it’s not just here.”