October is Autism Awareness Month. In conjunction with the mission to support people on the spectrum and spread awareness of the neurodevelopmental disorder, Toronto’s Chelsea Hotel is leading the way in providing inclusivity for travellers with autism. Here’s how.

 

By Stefanie Phillips

This month, families will be settling into their new school year routine, getting ready for Thanksgiving and now, thanks to the autism community of Canada, celebrating Canadian Autism Awareness Month.

In light of the awareness month, organizations will be hosting independent fundraisers, and family members of people with autism are encouraged to wear blue to show their support.

For the families of children with autism, it can be especially hard to travel to these fundraising events, retreats or even out-of-town Thanksgiving dinners.

But hotels in Ontario have been working under pressure from the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act to make their hotels more accessible to people with autism.

One of those hotels is The Chelsea Hotel in downtown Toronto.

At The Chelsea, staff—at all levels of the company—participate in a three-hour training orientation that includes information on how to successfully accommodate guests with autism.

Carrie Henderson, a manager from the human resources department is the one who organizes part of that orientation. She believes providing the staff with the right training means helping them understand where the person with a disability is coming from.

“I believe you can’t understand how someone feels unless you’ve lived through it yourself,” she said.

This means educating them on the needs of people with autism, like how you can communicate with them, what matters to a parent of a child with autism and how to ensure they have the best possible stay.

The hotel has also worked closely with Kerry’s Place, Canada’s largest autism services provider serving over 8,000 people with autism spectrum disorder. Together they’ve trained employees how to better accommodate people with autism.

One of those ways is by offering them a “fidget kit,” a bag filled with toys and tools that aim to put a person with autism at ease.

The Chelsea Hotel hands out fidget kits to accommodate its visitors with autism

Henderson has seen the kit work with her brother, Dustin Henderson, 40, who lives with autism spectrum disorder.

“When [my brother] gets into situations that are very unfamiliar, he tends to do the rocking and the talking to himself and the fidgeting with his hands. There was a little ducky in [the fidget kit] that you could squish and, when he was squishing it, it would calm him down,” she said.

 

The bag is filled with things like, Dustin’s ducky, pipe cleaners, a soft ball and a rubber kitchen brush, amongst other things.

 

In Canada, one in 68 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, making it the fastest growing and most commonly diagnosed neurological disorder in the country, according the Autism Speaks website.

Lisa Binns, regional director from Kerry’s Place, was the one who worked with The Chelsea Hotel to provide a better service to people with autism. Her 25 years of experience in the field has taught her there are many wonderful things about people with autism worth embracing and learning more about.

She believes training staff in hotels and the service industry at large is important because it educates people on one of the most prevalent neurological disorders in the country, giving them a better understanding of a large percentage of the population.

“The prevalence rate is skyrocketing and autism is something that a lot of folks need support with,” she said. “We’re trying to embrace them because, you know what, there are a lot of things about autism that is just wonderful.”