Hilton Mom Voyage Hilton Hotels and Resorts
Autism Travel and Special Needs Travel - Partnering with Your Destination

Special Needs Travel – Why Partnering With Your Destination Is Important

Posted in Tips | by

We’re all familiar with the saying, “Knowledge is power!” My husband and I have found this to be especially true when we travel with our kids, particularly our special needs child, a 9 year-old bright-eyed boy on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum.

With the dramatic rise in autism, many resorts and vacation spots have taken steps to ensure that kids on the spectrum can safely experience travel adventures right along with their families. The key to putting plans into action, though, is communication. We highly recommend that you partner with people at your destination.

By notifying a resort manager or an activity director that you’ll be visiting them with a special needs child, you’re providing them with extra time to make decisions on how to better accommodate your family. I know from personal experience that a simple communication can mean the difference between a successful trip and a vacation disaster.

Here are a few examples I have to draw from in traveling with my son:

Horseback Riding

My family planned a weekend getaway to a central California dude ranch. To participate in the trail rides, guests must be able to follow directions and control a horse. My son isn’t able to do either of those things. I feared he would only get to enjoy the ranch’s childcare program, until I contacted the proprietor.

  • The result: The ranch staff were able to make sure a very experienced wrangler was on hand to take my son on a corral ride and work him up to field jaunt with that same person leading the horse. My son enjoyed the experience so much, he keeps asking when he can ride again.

Enjoying Couple and Family Experiences

From fishing and crafts to swimming and golf, the Keiki Club at Hilton Waikoloa Village offers loads of fun activities for kid guests to enjoy independently of their parents. My husband and I really wanted to work a rare date night and a trip to the spa into our vacation plans. Bringing the manager of the Kids Club in on our situation made the difference.

  • The result: We gave the manager the opportunity to make sure a staff member could be on hand who had completed training in applied behavior analysis (ABA). ABA involves analyzing the cause of a particular social behavior and teaching a new and more useful behavior in its place. This simple staffing decision gave our sensory challenged child the support he needed to participate in one of the most sensory filled events at a Hawaiian resort, a luau.


We love to ski in our household. When our son was old enough to make his debut on the slopes, getting him started wasn’t as straightforward as it was with our daughter. Then ski resorts began offering lessons using an approach based on Adaptive Therapy. These programs are tailored to the individual so that they can be adjusted to provide different skiers with what they need.

  • The result: Setting up ski lessons before arriving at the ski resort meant that our son was guaranteed an instructor who was trained to teach skiing to kids on the autism spectrum. By the end of our vacation it was difficult to get our little skiier off the mountain! The pride on his face made the pre-planning that went into getting us on the slopes well worth it.

Tips for making sure your child is accommodated:

Plan ahead

If I had waited until my arrival at the dude ranch to tell them about my son, his experience there may have been completely different. By planning ahead, you’re ensuring that the staff has enough time to devise a plan, and you’re setting yourself up with the greatest shot at achieving a success.

Do your research

I have found that resort websites rarely feature the special programs and accommodations they have to offer. While I’m unsure of why this is the case — as it screams, “awesome public relations,” as far as I’m concerned — don’t be afraid to ask.

Be specific

It’s all about making the right decision for your child, so help those on the ground at your vacation spot make the best one possible for your family by being specific about your needs.

One last word of advice

Get out there and enjoy the world with your kids! Nothing colors a child’s world view like travel and now nothing will color an adult’s view like showing the world to a child on the autism spectrum.

You may also enjoy:

Posted by:

Kristine lives in Mountain View, California, where she is the mother of a gifted girl athlete and a special needs charmer. Like almost everything in her house,…

Back to top ▴