Virgin has announced that it is working on a new concept of “autism friendly” holiday packages with the support of parents and campaigners.
Virgin holidays and Autism Parent Empower, a charity for autistic individuals, are in talks together to discuss a new initiative that is geared towards making holidays an enjoyable experience for everyone, regardless of whether they are autistic or not.
A specialized training has been initiated for staff of Virgin in selected locations during this first phase of implementation. The staff is being educated about what they can expect from children and families alike, so that they are well prepared for the environment.
Ms D’Costa-Manuel, Founder as well as director of Autism Parent Empower, says “We’re looking at more than one hotel, in various locations.”
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The campaign is being designed in such a way that it will indicate with a little icon that the package is autism friendly. This will help families to pick their destinations. Preparations are underway for families to receive the support they need upon arriving at their chosen destinations.
Virgin Holidays said it wanted to “enhance our provisions for families with autism throughout their entire holiday” and was considering “various initiatives to assist families with autism who wish to travel.”
As many as 700,000 individuals in the UK have been diagnosed with autism. This is roughly 1.1% of the population. Autism is a disability that hampers communication and affects social interaction.
Tesco has also been aggressive on its various initiatives and has come up with services to assist their autistic customers with specialized shopping carts to make their shopping experience more comfortable.
The civil aviation authorities have also lent a hand, saying airports should consider “open days” which could help in easing anxiety for travelers with autism, dementia or other health-related issues. They could benefit from familiarizing themselves with the new environment and the challenges the experience could present.
Richard Branson’s airline has come up with a different concept. They have designed a training rig. This rig has the interior of a real airline including a check-in area. Branson says he believes autistic individuals can benefit from familiarizing themselves with the environment long before they even fly.
Ms D’Costa-Manuel recalls a “horrendous” experience that she had on a flight when her young autistic son Jaden was accompanying her. This made her realize the need for training staff on different types of disabilities.
“The seatbelt signs came on because there was turbulence. But he didn’t understand that, so he started furiously kicking the seat in front of him,” she said.
“There was an elderly passenger in front, and I called the stewardess over and said, ‘Excuse me, would you mind just letting the passengers know in front and behind that we’re travelling with our son who has autism?’
“She said no worries, and went to them and said, ‘Just to let you know, the passenger behind you has autism, and these children are really naughty.’
“Once he’d calmed down and fallen asleep, I called her back over and said, Our children aren’t naughty. He can’t speak, he doesn’t know where he’s at or what’s going on, it’s a new environment, we’re trying to strap him in when all he wants to do is get out, but the last thing he’s being is naughty.”