Traveling with autism isn’t easy. Unfamiliar environments can be overwhelming, some attractions can be overstimulating and businesses may not be able to accommodate someone on the spectrum. As a result, according to Autismtravel.com, 87 percent of families with autism don’t travel.
First Autism-Certified City
However, that could change soon, thanks to Mesa, Arizona. The Phoenix suburb recently became the first in the United States to become an Autism Certified City, a designation given by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards. Now, families can plan an autism-friendly vacation to Mesa where staff at nearly 60 attractions, hotels, restaurants, and businesses have undergone autism certification training.
Training involves learning to understand what autism is (and isn’t), how individuals with autism experience the world and how to empathize and communicate better with them. Staff is also taught to be aware of common sensitivities and concerns in a recreational environment.
In addition to hospitality-related businesses, more than 500 Mesa Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities employees and 1,200-plus Mesa Police Department public safety and law enforcement officers are undergoing autism certification training. Neighboring Queen Creek’s fire department and parks and recreation department are following suit with other communities exploring autism certification.
Things to Do in Mesa
Families with autism can visit the Arizona Museum of Natural History to learn about dinosaurs, geology and ancient civilizations or make art at the i.d.e.a. Museum. Other memory-making activities include yoga with goats at AZ Goat Yoga, playing laser tag and other games at Jake’s Unlimited and trying to escape at Escape Rooms Mesa.
Outdoorsy families can hike at nearby regional parks or explore the Sonoran desert’s waterways with Riverbound Sports Paddle Co. Or, they can try geocaching, an outdoor treasure hunt game, by downloading the Geocaching app, searching for Visit Mesa Autism Travel GeoTour and picking a geocache. Mesa also has several autism-friendly parks younger kids will love.
The parks and several of the attractions offer online sensory guides indicating levels of sensory stimulation (touch, taste, sound, smell and sight) so parents can better plan their visit.
Two of the Phoenix metropolitan area’s most popular family attractions, OdySea Aquarium and Butterfly Wonderland, are also autism-friendly. Watch for more attractions in the metro area to get certification soon as well.
For more complete list of companies — including hotels, restaurants and attractions — in Mesa that completed or committed to autism training, click here. View the Visit Mesa Autism Travel Guide online here.
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