MONTEGO BAY, JAMAICA—With Autism Awareness Month last month, Beaches Resorts has announced its commitment to enhancing its autism-friendly resorts by becoming the first resort company in the world to attain the Advanced Certified Autism Center (ACAC) designation by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES). This new certification training to be completed in May spans all three Beaches Resorts—Beaches Negril Beach Resort & Spa and Beaches Ocho Rios Spa, Golf & Waterpark Resort in Jamaica, and Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort Villages & Spa in Turks & Caicos—with a core focus on the company’s Kids Camp, Entertainment and Watersports operations, as well as staff from other areas of the resort. In April 2017, Beaches Resorts led the charge and became the first resort company in the world to be recognized by IBCCES as a Certified Autism Center (CAC).
With one in 59 children diagnosed with autism in the United States, special needs travel is the fastest growing family travel segment. Beaches Resorts’ new level of commitment to this underserved market empowers its staff to confidently ensure every family can enjoy the award-winning Luxury Included vacation experience in a safe, fun and comfortable manner tailored to their specific needs.
“We are proud to continue paving the way for families with individuals who have special needs, including children on the autism spectrum, to travel comfortably and truly live up to our tagline—the ‘Resorts for Everyone’,” said Adam Stewart, Deputy Chairman of Sandals Resorts International. “As a family-built brand, we want to provide all families with a superior level of service that makes them feel the most welcomed at our resorts. We are especially excited to further expand this important training to our resort’s watersports program, with PADI certified dive professionals and other team members earning a special ‘ACAC’ designation for each Aqua Center at Beaches, allowing children on the spectrum to safely experience the incredible waters of the Caribbean.”
The Certification Process & Special Services
The ACAC designation is the next level of certification once an organization has achieved the CAC certification. It underscores that the organization has gone above and beyond to train its staff and provide substantial modifications for visitors with autism or similar sensory needs, and designations are granted by the IBCCES.
The ACAC certification process—which will come to life across different aspects of the resorts, both pre-travel and on property—entails a variety of important aspects including:
- An in-depth training of 40 credit hours on autism sensitivity and awareness, in the areas of communication, motor skills, social skills, environment awareness, emotional awareness, bullying, early childhood identification, transition to adulthood, and more.
- Activities and accommodations that must be available for guests on the spectrum.
- An annual onsite audit and review.
- Substantial changes to protocols and physical space to accommodate various needs.
Special Services include the option of a ‘One-on-One Beaches Buddy’—personalized, private childcare with a buddy who is certified by IBCCES, and can be pre-booked (for a nominal fee)—as well as:
- A personalized pre-travel questionnaire to identify requests and preferences with a dedicated Special Services team to assist in the vacation planning process.
- A Culinary Concierge program to support specific dietary restrictions and special requests.
- Modified check-in options for private, in-room, check-in and the availability of sensory toys for children during check-in.
- Identification of quiet spaces during noisier times of the day and evening.
- Modified design and decoration in Kids Camps and Entertainment areas to create a more sensory-friendly environment.
Since achieving the CAC certification in April 2017, Beaches Resorts has also been instrumental in extending training to hundreds of its travel agent partners, as well as internal sales and marketing teams, through IBCCES’ Certified Travel Agent Professional (CATP) in an effort to better communicate with and assist families within this highly specialized market.
Beaches Resorts’ watersports teams have also earned another first—staff have completed the ACAC training and certification, and are among the first to earn the designation in conjunction with a collaboration between the Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI) and IBCCES. The certification makes appropriate programming from autism-certified staff available for families looking to enjoy daily PADI-certified diving at the company’s world class dive operations, voted Top 10 in the world. According to a recent study of 1,000 parents with a child on the spectrum, 87 percent would be more inclined to visit centers where staff are trained and certified in autism awareness. Many individuals on the autism spectrum are drawn to water, and the Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation (ASDF) highlights that swimming can help children on the spectrum improve speech, coordination and balance, social skills, self-esteem, cognitive processing, communication skills and oral motor skills.
“Diving has frequently proven to be a transformative and healing experience for individuals with physical or emotional challenges and their families,” said Kristin Valette-Wirth, Chief Marketing Officer of PADI Worldwide. “We are honored to work together with our global network of dive centers and resorts, including our longtime partner in Beaches Resorts, and IBCCES to offer more opportunities for those with special needs to heal, explore and connect through diving. Together with Beaches Resorts and IBCCES, we look forward to inspiring and enabling more travel and shared experiences for all to create lifelong memories that have the power to transform lives.”
The Introduction of Sesame Street’s Julia
In September 2017, as part of its long-standing partnership with Sesame Workshop, Beaches Resorts introduced the arrival of Julia, a Sesame Street Muppet on the autism spectrum, who brought an exclusive new activity to Beaches Resorts: Amazing Art with Julia. During this activity, children are greeted by Julia, a four-year-old girl on the autism spectrum, who loves to paint. Julia highlights how people can express themselves through art, and children can explore, experiment and create in an open-ended art activity. As part of brand-wide efforts to increase awareness of autism, all Beaches Resorts staff underwent sensitivity training with “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children” resources.
For more information about Beaches Resorts’ autism-friendly resorts in the Caribbean, click here.