Austin hotel designs rooms for autistic children

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by AMY JOHNSTON / KVUE News

kvue.com

Posted on April 14, 2010 at 6:12 PM

Updated Monday, Apr 19 at 6:06 PM

The Wyndham Garden Austin Hotel is opening a special wing Wednesday night.  This special section of rooms is specially designed for children on the Autism spectrum.

The hotel partnered with the team at The Thoughtful House.  The Thoughtful House experts helped design the hotel rooms and educate the staff about what to expect from the wide range of Autism.

The final touches were being put into a South Austin hotel room Wednesday.

"We wanted it to feel very much like a hotel room still, because we don't want people to come in and feel like, 'Oh, we've been tagged with this special needs label,'" said Conference Services Manager Anna Roberts. 

Some of the changes are subtle: organic cleaning products, corner protectors and keeping most of the amenities just out of reach.

It's ideal for Ann Kaplan, who travels each year with her family, including her 9-year -old autistic son, Jon.

"He is what I consider low verbal, he has some speaking, he can request things," she said.

Jon is a pretty good traveler, but it's still not easy.

"We pack our own foods, we do a lot of prep before we go -- where's the Whole Foods or natural food markets," she said.

Many autistic children don't like being taken out of their comfort zone or routines. Kaplan has had scary moments while traveling.

"Our child has tried to escape a room -- it's very scary. He woke up in the middle of the night and he was disoriented and he tried to walk out," she recounted.

That is the type of scenario the Wyndham Austin Hotel is trying to avoid.  Special alarms will wake parents if a child opens the door.  No need to pack foods --  the hotel offers a gluten and casein free menu.  The five special rooms are all in one section of the hotel, and the staff has been trained on what to expect.

"So to have a staff that's trained, that say 'oh, we know that's OK. We're not going to react to it or we're going to help you what ever the situation calls for,'" said Kaplan.

"I think that's the biggest part of making them feel comfortable," said Roberts.

That gives parents a sense of calm that they can have a vacation. 

All five rooms are booked for the first night.  The hotel offers those rooms at a discount.

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