Resorts train to be autism-friendly, welcoming more families to the Grand Strand

Resorts train to be autism-friendly, welcoming more families to the Grand Strand

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – A number of Grand Strand resorts are training their staffs to be more autism-friendly.

The Champion Autism Network has partnered with Vacation Myrtle Beach, a company that has over a dozen resort properties to choose from, to begin training everyone from reservations staff, to dining and housekeeping.

"If you're going to invite the world to come play with you at the beach, you need a place for them to stay," said Becky Large, the founder of the Champion Autism Network.

The very first resort to train was the Ocean Creek Resort.

"The staff really opened up," said general manager Sabrina Hilliard.

For Hilliard, watching her staff become so eager to learn about autism was humbling as both a boss but even more so, as someone who understands more than most may realize.

Her 7-year-old son, Landon, was diagnosed with autism just months ago.

"I've worked in the industry for 16 years. I haven't taken my son on a hotel vacation. I mean I've taken him to families and things like that, but I've not even done it because different environments affect them," Hilliard said.

Hilliard sees this training as the start of newfound possibilities for families of autistic children, who will finally be able to experience a vacation.

"Families need a vacation. They need them to decompress, make memories, that's what it's all about," she said. "So this gives us a chance to give a lot of families some great memories."

From planning the vacation, to providing a person on property to assist the family, to even making sure the resort has the right food, Hilliard said all of the bases will be covered.

"People are coming and knowing that they are supported, and it makes a huge difference," Large said. "Part of it is where you're going, where you're staying. They understand. But also, our efforts in trying to reduce judgment and criticism from the public at large is another huge boon for the families."

So far, three resorts have been trained and the Champion Autism Network hopes to have the staff at all 14 resorts ready to go by the end of this year.

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