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The Best Destinations for Autism Families in the US

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Should we fly or drive? Where should we stay? What are the best restaurants? What is there to do? Those are just some of the questions we ponder while planning a vacation. But for families of children or loved ones with special needs, like autism, much more needs to be considered.

Three destinations in the United States are among the best for accommodating people on the autism spectrum.

Mesa, Arizona

Located in the southwestern United States, Mesa, Arizona holds the distinction of being named the first Autism Certified City in the world. The designation from the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) is given to communities that excel at training staff and leaders on how to help people with autism. The IBCCES also developed a sensory guide for attractions in the Mesa area. The guide includes a sensory level of 1 to 10 for each attraction along with a short description of what visitors can expect.

Mesa also boasts dozens of hotels, restaurants and attractions that are autism certified. The OdySea Aquarium is one of them. It is the largest aquarium in the southwest and home to more than 30,000 animals. Guests who need a break from the exhibits can head to a designated quiet area or quiet room.If you have a dinosaur lover in your family, the Arizona Museum of Natural History is the place to go. Creatures from the Mesozoic Era come to life on Dinosaur Mountain. And every 23 minutes, a flash flood cascades down the three-story mountain. Most exhibits at the museum fall under 5 on the sensory guides.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is among the popular vacation destinations in the southeastern part of the U.S. In 2016, nearby Surfside Beach was declared the first autism-friendly certified destination in the United States by the Champion Autism Network (CAN). The same year, Myrtle Beach International Airport opened its first quiet room, a place parents can take children to de-stress. Other airports in the U.S. and across the world followed, creating their own quiet rooms.

CAN is based in Surfside Beach and has been working with hotels, restaurants, attractions, even residents to provide sensory-friendly experiences in the Myrtle Beach area. Families can get discounts to restaurants, hotels and attractions or access special services by becoming a CAN Card Club member.

Most recently, Angelo’s Steak and Pasta restaurant, a CAN certified business, opened a sensory-friendly dining room with a separate entrance. As for attractions, the SkyWheel offers a unique view of Myrtle Beach. The observation wheel boasts climate-controlled gondolas with emergency call buttons in case a passenger needs to get off. And, CAN Club card members can go to the head of the line if there’s a wait.

Lansing, Michigan

Winter, spring, summer or fall, there is plenty to see and do in Lansing, Michigan.
Michigan’s capital city prides itself in welcoming travelers with all needs and offers a wide range of hotels, restaurants and entertainment centers that are sensory-friendly and ADA compliant.

Lansing was the first city to be certified in the Able Eyes Accessible Cities program. Able Eyes, a business located in Lansing, created the program to provide people with a virtual tour of public places for accessibility before they visit. Some of the online tours include hotels, restaurants, grocery stores and entertainment venues. Among them, the Impression 5 Science Center. The museum has sensory-friendly hours and special exhibits altered to reduce sounds, lighting and scents. And, just outside Lansing is the Xavier DeGroat Autism Foundation and Museum, the first Autism history museum in the United States. It highlights the history of autism including prominent people on the spectrum.

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