April is World Autism Month and no better time to recognize how Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach and all the Grand Strand communities have been committed to creating an autism- and sensory-friendly destination since 2016.
“We believe that everyone belongs at The Beach, and our top priority at Myrtle Beach is to provide an inclusive destination for locals and visitors of all abilities,” said Karen Riordan, President and CEO of Visit Myrtle Beach. “Families with children diagnosed with autism often feel vacations are out of their reach — and we want to change that. At Visit Myrtle Beach, we believe in the restorative and life-altering power of The Beach and our offerings, and we continue to further our efforts to provide greater support and access to all.”
During the month of April, the team at Champion Autism Network (CAN) put together a month-long campaign called, “You’re Invited!” The campaign includes events and promotions at partner businesses, including sensory-friendly attraction and movie days, special SkyWheel illuminations, and community gatherings, such as beach sweeps in the town of Surfside.
Here are some of the ways Myrtle Beach is already sensory-friendly destination:
- Many hotels at The Beach help create a safe and sensory-friendly experience for children with Autism and their families, including room placements, removing potentially dangerous or trigger items from rooms, coordinating unique experiences and more.
- At numerous restaurants, wait staff are trained to seat guests in a quiet space, expedite meals and check outs as needed, and handle potential sensory-overload situations with understanding and compassion.
- Many attractions offer services such as trained staff, special programming and discounts to families that present the Autism Travel Card. At the SkyWheel Myrtle Beach, families receive expedited attraction access along with discounted tickets, and Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach provides noise-cancelling headphones and special pricing.
- Through Project Lifesaver, Myrtle Beach area police and tourism professionals are trained to administer a GPS tracking band program for children who are prone to wandering off or are at risk of becoming lost. Those wearing the band, whether on the wrist or ankle, can be quickly located by search teams and returned to families/caregivers.
Here are some of the new initiatives to promote and foster inclusivity throughout the Grand Strand:
Myrtle Beach isn't resting on its commitment to accommodate those with special needs. In fact, it continues to increase its efforts to provide a safe, accessible and welcoming destination for all.
- In conjunction with the Champion Autism Network (CAN) and TravelAbility, Visit Myrtle Beach launched The Beach is for everyBODY: Sensory-Friendly Pledge in 2022. To date, more than 150 businesses along the Grand Strand have pledged their support or received CAN certification. Participating organizations are committed to welcoming guests with autism and other neurodiverse disabilities through tangible and meaningful actions designed to support residents and visitors.
- CAN recently rebranded its CAN Card to become the Autism Travel Card to offer a simple way for guests to identify their family as one that includes someone with autism, without needing to say a word. Participating restaurants, hotels and venues have been trained in the needs of individuals with autism and their families and to provide a special or expedited service. Autism Travel Cards are available online at AutismTravel.Club for a $7 membership fee and offer several benefits including services and discounts with participating businesses.
- Myrtle Beach International Airport has launched its participation in the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Program. The program provides a discreet way for travelers with a hidden disability, including autism, to self-identify, alerting airport personnel that they may require additional assistance or patience throughout their travel journey. Individuals wishing to utilize the program can request a sunflower lanyard at one of the two information booths in the terminal (pre-security at baggage claim and post-security near Nacho Hippo and Gate A2). The airport also offers a “Quiet Room” in the baggage claim area to give families a space to decompress before or after a flight.
- This summer, Visit Myrtle Beach will be launching a new children’s book, titled Splish, Splash, Squawk! Finding Joy in a Sensory-Friendly Vacation. In partnership with author and illustrator, Lynda Farrington Wilson, the book will help to encourage families with children on the autism spectrum to vacation together through a fictional story that helps readers discover the joy and wonder in a family vacation, despite the overlooked challenges of acclimating to new environment, and experiences.
For more information on Myrtle Beach’s autism-friendly offerings and accessible trip-planning resources, visit www.visitmyrtlebeach.com/autism-friendly-vacations.