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The Sensory Hotel

Updated: Nov 18, 2021

Why design Hotels for Autism?

This question for me began because of a special young boy that I know with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Some years ago, his mother a lifelong friend of mine, asked me to consider designing a hotel that could be suitable for them as an autistic family. She did not feel comfortable taking her son on holiday, as she felt that many Hotels did not cater to their family and their specific needs. As I watched her struggle over the years, I knew this was something that needed further attention.

As an Interior Designer with 20+ years’ experience under my belt, I have had the privilege of designing for many hotel brands throughout the Middle East and Australasia regions. However, in my experience, a hotel designed with the needs of those with ASD has not been fully considered. The needs of those with physical disabilities are often considered but not those with developmental or sensory disabilities. When I was proposed with this consideration by my friend, I had no idea how to go about it, as there was little research available in this field. So, I set about to research how a hotel space could be transformed for the needs of those with ASD; jump to years later and a completed Master’s degree in which I focused on ASD design and developed a concept Hotel solution and design strategies for an Autism Hotel. Through my research and interviewing parents with Autistic children, I have come to realise how important adjusting our hotels in small ways could be for many Autistic families.

There currently is a shortage in the hotel market for families traveling with an autistic child. A recent survey conduct­ed by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), found that only 11% of parents said they were satisfied with current travel options for families with autism and 93% said they would be more inclined to travel if autism certified options were available ((IBCCES, 2020).

“I am different not less”

“Individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) need autism-certified recreational activities. Many times, we concentrate on housing and education, neglecting the need for ‘fun’. Having other opportunities will increase individuals’ quality of life immensely.”

Dr. Temple Grandin, Prominent Author and Speaker on Autism

Our quality of life and well-being can be enhanced by our involvement in recreational activities, including travel and staying at a hotel. As the above quote by Temple Grandin implies it is the same for those with ASD.

A Hotel generally is supposed to be a place of rest, relaxation, and joy. But for an ASD individual being unable to relax or feel comfortable can be stressful in any environment, but even more so in an unfamiliar environment such as a hotel. Surprise and the unfamiliar is something that those with ASD do not deal with well, so therefore it is important for the hotel experience to be calming, friendly, and safe.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is one of the fastest-growing development disabilities and has seen a 600% increase in diagnoses in the last 20 years.

The growing number of people with ASD has significant implications on the Hospitality industry. As more individuals are diagnosed with ASD, more Hotel accommodations catering for Autism travelers will be required. Therefore, the Hotel Industry should be adapting to this need and creating functional and aesthetic spaces, and unique experiences for all guests; including those with ASD.

Good Hotel design offers a home-like setting, provides the familiar within a new or exotic location. A hotel is not designed solely based on aesthetic and functionality, but it considers all aspects of the visitor’s stay, both physical and emotional. The hotel is a space where the needs of people are particularly important, as a hotel by its nature caters to many different people, of differing cultures and needs.

As an Interior designer, I have a responsibility to provide an inclusive built interior environment for all, for all building types. The Hotel is not excluded from this and should be designed also for the needs of ASD individuals.

A Hotel that is inclusive for all people.

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